Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cambodia and Thailand's Crisis, Two Different Political Cultures

Cambodian protest on October, 2013

Thai protest on December 03, 2013
By Khmer Wathanakam

Cambodia post-election crisis has dragged on over four months and no sign of political breakthrough.  Now CNRP plans a fourth mass protest in Seam Reap on December 10, 2013 to continue demanding justice for voters.  Meanwhile, CPP has revealed its new tactic of intimidation against the opposition leadership with two possible lawsuits and a plan of assassination attempt and replacing new elected CNRP members a long with a call for talk.  As Cambodian political crisis in a deadlock, Thailand has slipped into another crisis for just less than three years; the crisis has reached a tipping point for less than a week when protesters stormed and occupied many government buildings that nearly made the government paralyzed.  As the Thai protest has gained momentum, many questions have raised that "Should Cambodian protesters follow the Thai?"  Based on two different political cultures of the two countries, we should not follow them.

Although the two countries share a common religion, similar culture and language originated from India, they have two distinct political cultures.  Historically, Thailand is more stable politically and economically than Cambodia.  Albeit Thailand has gone through at least eighteen military coups hitherto, Thailand has still managed to maintain civilian democratic elected governments over past decades in compared with Mayanmar which has been ruled by a military Junta since 1962 until 2011.  Thailand is among the most democratic countries in the region along with Philippines and Indonesia.  In 1932, a Thai military's bloodless coup had forced King Prajadhipok to give up an absolute monarchy power and embraced a constitutional monarchy ceded most power to parliament that has been practiced until today.  Furthermore, Thailand is a true sovereign and independent nation, and no any country dares to meddle with its own internal affairs in contrast to Cambodia.

Political crisis has always occurred but quickly solved by a revered king and military intervention.  Oppositely from Cambodia, all Thai national institutions are very independent from political parties--from national election committee, courts, police, military and so on.  As all these institution are neutral, all political parties have an equal opportunity to compete with each other in an election, and a winner truly represents the will of the people.  Thai government either from Democrat or Peu Thai has always refrained from using excessive forces or violence against its own people during crisis unless in a dire situation.  A bloody crackdown on the Red Shirt protesters in 2010 was ordered only after months long confrontations and failure in negotiations.  Now Ms. Yingluck's government has followed even more peaceful way by allowing the protesters stormed and occupied government office buildings to avert violent clashes with police even she easily survived a no confident vote by Thai parliament--a common practice in a parliamentary political system.  The Thai government has handled its crisis in more civilized and peaceful ways even it knew that people had clearly broken a law; it refused to use excessive forces to punish them but let them face the law at the end.  Now the Yingluck's government has gained some sympathy from the international community even the US has condemned the violence initiated by the protesters and urged both sides to negotiate to end the crisis immediately though a protest leader vowed to continue next week, fallowing a moratorium in observance of the King's birthday celebration.

Whereas Cambodian political culture is so different from Thailand as we have gone through more turbulent history of colonization, violent wars, killing fields, foreign occupation, and continuously interfered by Hanoi until today.  Currently, Cambodia is outwardly a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy the same as Thailand; but in fact, Cambodia is a quasi one-party system rule and covertly controlled by Vietnam.  Hun Sen regime, which has ruled the country over three decades, has survived only by fraudulent and violent means.  This violent prone regime is fragrant internationally by its corruption and human rights abuses.  Any natural or violent protest against an election fraud as the Thai protest will be brutally smashed by Hun Sen's security forces.  The 1997 bloody coup, the 1998 bloody crackdown on election protest, and recent brutal attacks by police on monks, onlookers and protesters at Steung Mean Chey are just fresh reminds that this regime will act the same way if the protesters fallow a way of Thai protesters.

The regime deeply rooted in the country over three decades will not easily fall, but if it falls, it will not able to come back, for the CPP cannot survive in a free and fair election.  As the opposition planned a series of weekly mass protest, the CPP has launched its new tactic of intimidation--mainly against Kem Sokha whose comments implicated a military role in plundering power from voters and his previous comment about the S-21 that now Hun Sen has tried to bring it back together.  A divulged plan of assassination attempt on Kem Sokha posted on a Facebook controversial account, a suggestion from Cheang Vun, a Senior CPP member, to use internal rule of the National Assembly to replace the 55 new elected CNRP members along with a call for talk from a CPP's chief negotiator, Prum Sokha, just create a more complicated political pressure ahead for the opposition.  Albeit all these tactics are not new, the opposition must take them in face value because Sam Rainsey and Kem Sokha along with their colleagues used to face such a tribulation many times in the past and expect to face more if Hun Sen still holds the power.

The Thai and Khmer people are culturally close related but politically very different; the Thai people live in a true sovereign and democratic country while Khmer people live in a quasi authoritarian state where every aspect in society is controlled by one man or a party.  To get rid of this dictatorial regime demands strong unity among Khmer and well planned and disciplined leadership.  The current CNRP's strategy in dealing with Hun Sen's regime is unlikely to success in demanding justice for voters, but it has put steady pressure on the CPP to make more concession in a possible future negotiation.  Without negotiation, there will be no way to end the current crisis peacefully, for the current regime shows no sign of relinquishing the power voluntarily.  This is the battle between David and Golliah: a small and weak David can only win his giant enemy Golliah by using his wisdom or praja.  To fallow what have happened in Thailand will be a premature as there is no balance of power in place because Cambodia has ruled by a violent-prone leader, Hun Sen who came to power by cannons and tanks of Hanoi in contrast to Prime Minister Yingluck whom was freely and fairly elected by the will of Thai people. 

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