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Asean Affairs    8 August  2011

Cambodia civil progress remains slow

By  David Swartzemtruber

AseanAffairs     8  August 2011

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With most of the world engaged in the ongoing debt crisis, we take a look at Cambodia and its continuing side toward an increasingly repressive governance style under Premier Hun Sen.

Most of the stories we have published about Cambodia suggest that the country is economically improving along with the regional pickup of its Asean neighbors, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

However, on the political side things remain stagnant with little progress toward the democratic ideals espoused in the Asean charter. Here are several current examples.

Five men who distributed leaflets critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen between the years 2008 and 2011 were sentenced to jail time yesterday by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The leaflets accused the prime minister of selling Cambodian land to foreign countries, calling him a “traitor” and a “puppet of Vietnam”, municipal court judge Sem Sak Kola said.

On a broader scale, the Cambodian government is drafting and preparing to put in place a law governing NGOs. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and other groups all expressed grave concerns about the third draft of the law and inadequate public consultation yesterday.

A policy paper released by CCHR said Cambodia was “fast approaching the point of no return” for the adoption of a law that had been formulated with almost no public input and was filled with misleading language.

In a developing country such as Cambodia, NGOs frequently play a critical role in addressing social problems and championing the causes of citizens, who are often too intimidated to speak up.

Although Cambodia is described as a multi-party democracy under a constitutional monarchy, the issues of the common person are often not championed. The most recent example was the displacement of lakeside villagers by a residential development backed by a local politician.

The fees for their homes were well below market value and when they held public protests they were attacked.

Given that Cambodia is still trying to resolve the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” period that killed 1.7 people between the years of 1975-1979, so the development of a more participatory democracy may be understood.

The development of a more participatory government often goes hand in a hand in the developing Asean countries. Thailand is far more prosperous and advanced than Cambodia but recently held its first general election in about five years following a 2006 coup by the military deposed Thaksin Shinawatra, who was viewed by many as increasing dictatorial as well as corrupt.

Every year Cambodia seems to improve economically and expect political change along the way.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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