‘Wake Up CPP’August 17, 2013
Until last month’s national election, the first rule of Cambodian politics was: don’t talk about Cambodian politics. Khmers are tired of fighting; Cambodians spent the last 35 years recovering from the Khmer Rouge regime while Hun Senand the CPP have largely done as they pleased.
Only in the last year have people been invigorated by the energy of the country’s youth, regaining enough strength to open their eyes and ask their leaders to do the same. No longer content to simply languish under the oppressive rule of their democratically elected dictator, many Cambodians are hungry for something new – unless, that is their family’s livelihood is being bankrolled by Hun Sen.
Amara is a 22-year-old tour guide and university student. Well-liked and well-spoken, she has 1,514 friends on Facebook. Her father is the chief of police in our commune. She is the only young person I know of that voted for the CPP.
When the elections results were announced, Amara took to Facebook to announce her delight that CPP had won sparking impassioned discourse among her friends. “I don’t want change,” she wrote. “Hun Sen has developed Cambodia for thirty years. What has Sam Rainsy done to help our country?”
Her friends have warned that she “does not see what she does not see.” Amara insists that everyone should have the right to their opinions, yet she refuses to acknowledge that the present government’s intimidation tactics and stringent regulation of Cambodians’ access to information have not allowed people to think freely, talk openly, or educate themselves.
Amara’s father spent the three months leading up to the election away in Vietnam. When I asked her what he did while he was away, she told me that he had been studying and had gotten a new uniform.
The CNRP took a lot of flak for their explicit racism towards the Vietnamese, but Amara and her friends – and Cambodians across the board – want to reclaim their country from the yuon, or, “those people with the body of a human and the head of a dog.”
Hun Sen maintains an unpopular alliance with Vietnam consisting of undisclosed business deals and dubious special favors. Amaya believes that Cambodia is “going to be better and better, and all Khmer people will be together as one family to develop,” but she does not think it can be done until the Vietnamese have been kicked out of the country.
Amara has a difficult time supporting this aspect of current regime, but she has an equally difficult time explaining the facets of the CPP that she endorses. She is able to regurgitate the common but shallow propaganda often broadcast on the many government-controlled news channels: Hun Sen built new roads, chartered new schools, and even planted trees to reforest the countryside (that his government has systematically pillaged for the better part of the last four decades).
A self-professed Daddy’s Girl, Amara cited the country’s “strong economic growth record” over the last ten years as proof that Hun Sen is [really] improving Cambodia.
Amara’s position is reminiscent of the conservative and impeccably dressed students from my university who argued against a flat tax systemin the months leading up to the 2008 election. These [wealthy] individuals maintained that their families had more money because they had worked harder than those families in lower income brackets. Why, they argued, should our family have to pay more of our hard-earned money to support the people that are too unintelligent and lazy to help themselves? Why would Amara want change when her family is thriving [economically] under Hun Sen?
She and I planned to have dinner last week, so we met first at her family’s complex. While we waited for her father to return from work she explained that the province had recently acquired a big problem with guns and drugs. She was showing me a water pipe that her father had confiscated when we heard the screech of brakes beyond the gate that marked her father’s arrival. Amara claimed she knew nothing of the government’s recent acquisition of ordnance from China as we stripped the car of the loaded guns her family normally travel with.
At dinner I asked her how she felt about the arguments she’d been having with her friends over the election. Is it wrong, I postulated, for people to want truth and transparency from their government? “Young people talk fast and do not think,” she replied in the third person. “Change will bring war.” She warned that young people – like poor people – “do not know how to talk to powerful people.”
What do poor people know of economics and politics, she challenged. Hun Sen knows much more than they do, so they should shut their mouths and let the CPP carry on. After all, she mused, “mistakes are our experiment.” Hun Sen and the CPP “just have to be better next time.”
Naomi Collett Ritz