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Challenges faced on the enforcement of an emergency law

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The tough measures being taken by the Cambodian government are widely appreciated. However, there are some politicians who are taking this opportunity to attack the government for supposedly importing the disease from China  and for allegedly taking slow actions in response to the pandemic.

The accusations are politically motivated. First, no country is interested in importing the virus to the country. It is a global pandemic concern. China is also the victim of the pandemic. Second, the Cambodian government has taken  prudent and  carefully crafted measures to strike a balance between public health security and economic security.

Now the circumstance has demanded the government  take more stringent measures to combat against the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerning the draft emergency law, the Cambodian government does not take it lightly. It is a serious issue.

The draft emergency law has been approved at the meeting at the Council of Ministers chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen. It is now in the hands of the National Assembly for further elaboration and approval and, by today, it would be  approved, in totality or with some revisions.

The draft law contains five chapters with eleven articles. The draft law includes objectives, procedure, scope and enforcement of the state of emergency once it is declared.

The legal process is going smoothly. The challenges here are enforcement, social behaviour and public perception.

The military will have a significant role in enforcing the law. This is where the real challenge is because neither the police nor the army are equipped to implement the measures under the emergency, if it is implemented.

In the state of emergency, the military has a critical role to play in enforcing the law. However, because the Cambodian Royal Armed Forces (RCAF) have not been trained in policing and are also not equipped with skills and experiences in enforcing the emergency law, they might encounter challenges and difficulties along the way.

Social behaviour is the key challenge in enforcing the law. Even respecting the traffic law for personal safety is already a challenge let alone respecting the emergency law. The rule of law cannot be effective if the people do not understand and respect it. Therefore, public awareness on the necessary and meaning of the emergency law is very critical.

Another challenge is how the government is going to manage public perception that the emergency law is good for society. There are rising concerns, mainly driven by a disinformation campaign by the opposition movement, that the emergency law is created to further suppress people.

The forever-critical human rights organisations, local and foreign, are already joining the bandwagon to criticise the government on the law.

However, these bleeding hearts had nothing much to say when Western powers, to whom these organisations are subservient, enforced even more draconian measures to combat the pandemic, the likes of which the world has not seen for many decades.

Counter-narratives against the disinformation are needed before and after enforcing the emergency law. Some politicians have politically manipulated the COVID-19 pandemic for their own selfish personal and group interests.

The ultimate objective of this group is to challenge the credibility and legitimacy of the government, stir social and political tensions and instability and seek regime change through people’s movement.

The government therefore must develop a clear, detailed crisis communications strategy to maintain and enhance public trust and confidence in the government. Small mistakes and loopholes will have serious political repercussions.

Perhaps it is an opportunity for Cambodian society to reform their social behaviour by observing the law. Building a disciplined and rules-based society is fundamental to the rule of law and democratic governance.

It is also an opportunity for the armed forces to learn all these processes and build their professionalism and ability to deal with future crises. Being ready to face uncertain times ahead. It will be a long struggle against the pandemic. The economic and social fallout is going to be immense.

This is an unprecedented crisis in the world and in Cambodia. Extraordinary measures are needed in extraordinary times. The emergency law provides a legal basis for Cambodia to prepare for a fully-fledged crisis.

For Cambodia to keep the numbers infected low calls for sustained efforts to break the vicious cycle of contraction because this is an easily communicable virulent disease.

Top most on the Government’s mind would be the forthcoming Khmer New year when, traditionally, thousands make their way home to the provinces, where most of the cases are.

Even if the government does not say it, this must be playing on their minds, along with the many tens of thousands, which could swell into hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Thailand if they decide to head back home for the Khmer New, giving real fear to the possibility of a second wave of infections, if the first wave is over.

Thus, the emergency is the only practical way to combat this massive movement of people. Remember Wuhan. Millions made their out before the lock down.  Remember the total lockdown. The rest is history. More need not be said.

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