2018 Cambodian Elections

July 31, 2018

2018 Cambodian Elections

Image result for Hun Sen wins 2018 Cambodian Elections


Breaking News – Cambodian PM Hun Sen Wins 2018 Election to become World’s Longest Leader. CPP wins resoundingly. Op Op Sato. The Cambodian People have spoken. Time to move and surge forward in peace, stability and development. –Din Merican

Khmer Times reports:

The voter turnout at Cambodia’s sixth national election was 82.17% percent of the total of 8,380,217, registered voters or 6,885,729 according to figures announced by the National Election Committee when polls nationwide closed at 3pm.

According to election observers there have been no reports of voter intimidation or violence.

“It has been a peaceful environment and people have expressed their will freely. No violence has been reported,” said a local observer, who did not want to be named. It shows the Cambodian people have chosen continuity and certainty,” he added.

Another observer from Turkey, who asked not to be identified said that he was pleasantly surprised by the high level of competence shown by the NEC officials and the relaxed mood of the voters.

Yet another from Indonesia echoed his Turkish counterpart’s comments and added that the observers had issued an official statement which very much declared what they saw.

“We did not see any need to deviate from the facts as we saw them as even random non organized checks showed the same orderly fashion. Only setback was the lack of observers from some smaller parties in some stations.”

Observations on the 2018 Cambodian Election

By Katrin Travouillon (with Chanroeun Pa) – 27 Jul, 2018


Cambodia will vote on Sunday July 29. Today, the 20 competing parties can make their final appeals to the voters. It is the endpoint of a campaign that many have dramatically dismissed as a death knell for Cambodian democracy. Both publicly—through articles and social media posts—and in private conversations, people often draw on their observations and memories of Cambodia’s past elections to weigh in on the state of politics and to consider what options remain.

First, some background. National elections are held every five years. In 2013, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), headed by Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, came close to defeating Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The results shocked the ruling party, which has effectively been in charge of the country’s affairs for almost four decades.

After the commune elections in 2017 demonstrated that popular discontent with Cambodia’s longstanding leadership had not ceased, the government began a series of drastic measures. Sokha was accused of plotting a “colour revolution” with the help of the US and jailed on treason charges, for which he could face 14 years imprisonment. Rainsy left the country under threat of defamation charges. In November 2017, the Supreme Court dissolved the opposition party and barred its members from political activities for five years before redistributing their seats. The bulk of them went back to the ruling party, a handful were scattered among other “opposition” parties.

So on Sunday, 19 parties will contest the CPP’s powerful grip. But without a major opposition party, this year’s election looks markedly different than previous ones.

The 2013 elections provide the most common backdrop to structure people’s observations of this year’s campaigns: compared to the bustling excitement and the loud and cheerful confidence displayed by CNRP voters all over the country, the opposition parties’ campaigns this year are mostly remarkable for what they are not. Even the capital Phnom Penh, otherwise the hub of campaign activities, is mostly silent and few things indicate that challengers to the CPP remain.

Yet for someone who has spent years combing through archives that document the work of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) it is the country’s first elections that still shape observations, at times producing an almost eerie sense of déjà vu:

what exactly is the role and agenda of the small parties? Will the government track voters’ choices in the ballot boxes? What will the total numbers of votes cast reveal about the future of Cambodia’s democracy?

These questions, now on the forefront of many voters’ minds, were just as intensely debated 25 years ago. At the end of its mission to implement the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, UNTAC organised the country’s first democratic elections in 1993. The highly anticipated event was globally celebrated (some might say overly glorified) as the “birth of democracy” in Cambodia.

In 1993 as well as in 2018 a total of 20 parties registered to compete in the elections. However, then, as now, the concept of a “political competition of ideas” was mostly elusive in an environment marked by fear and insecurity.

In 1993 it was the memories of the war that loomed large. During their televised campaign speeches Cambodian politicians alluded repeatedly to “mountains of bones, rivers of blood and an ocean of suffering” and appealed to their fellow politicians to prioritise national reconciliation. The theme was also evident in the parties’ names—Khmer Neutral Party or Liberal Reconciliation Party—and party symbols that used images like shaking hands or the peace dove.

Amidst the ongoing political violence in the country, the candidates chose their campaign locations and words carefully. “We live with the tiger and therefore must act in such a way as to avoid being eaten”, explained a candidate to an UNTAC official. Another observer noted in his report: “… the Bulletin of the Democratic Party is printed in a no-fuss black and white typescript. The Bulletin’s lackluster presentation style is carried over in content. This is no doubt a deliberate tactic to avoid direct criticism and the possibility of harassment.”

In 2018 similar tendencies can be observed. Many of the CPP’s competitors embrace the least objectionable of all causes in their campaigns and vaguely profess to “protect forests” or “end poverty” once in power. In his office, one party leader handed me a small program, the size of half a postcard, and gestured towards the breast pocket of his shirt: Easy to put it in here, he said. Easy to hide. And of course, small programs are also cheaper: most of the parties are notoriously under-financed and have only limited funding to spend on the campaigns. They focus their attention on going door to door in the provinces, talking to prospective voters and distributing their leaflets.

In the space of the city of Phnom Penh this translates into an overwhelming presence for the CPP. Huge, well-lit billboards have been erected at major intersections of the city. They line many of the large boulevards, streets and bridges. The party’s programs, slogans, and symbols have been glued to building walls at regular intervals. The portraits of the party’s leaders, Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, shoulder by shoulder, are omnipresent. There are tents, where party supporters alternately play campaign speeches and music. Expensive cars adorned with the CPP symbol can be spotted all over town. Shops sell CPP hats, shirts, phone cases and other merchandise. Rallies involve thousands of identically dressed supporters in cars, open trucks, and motorbikes and are flawlessly choreographed events: police are positioned on every corner, their ears pressed to their walky-talkies, waiting for their signal to stop the traffic and wave the motorcades through.

Amidst all of this, the campaigns of the other parties are difficult to find. None have a single billboard; their signs are small, mostly at the outskirts of the city, by the side of dusty roads. Some have taken to parking tuk-tuks decorated with flags and equipped with loudspeakers that blast recorded campaign speeches by their leaders towards the passers-by. Their processions have dramatically fewer supporters and the authorities are less likely to support their way through the city’s dense traffic, often leading to the campaign processions being cut into smaller and smaller groups of supporters.

In 1993, cognisant of the CPP’s relative wealth and reach even at that time, UNTAC tried to level the playing field by creating a radio station and then distributing radios in the provinces. One might assume that with the advent of social media and the intense popularity of Facebook in Cambodia the smaller parties could make up for much of the financial, material, and organisational limitations of their campaigns by reaching out to their supporters online. Yet, the government’s announcement to monitor social media ahead of the elections has spooked many and it is almost as quiet and monotonous on the web as it is in the streets of Phnom Penh.

Despite these restrictions and regardless of the media used, rumours travel fast in every era. To express their concerns and ask for advice in the run-up to the 1993 elections listeners from around the country wrote to the UNTAC radio station, which sometimes received several hundred letters a day. During a special program, selected letters would be read and answered on air. People had heard of magic pens or spy drones, and contacted UNTAC for advice.

Similar stories circulate today. Smartphones and their integrated cameras make it unnecessary to imagine more elaborate methods of surveillance inside the ballot box, but the dominant themes of those rumours remain the same: people worry about the government’s ability to compromise the secrecy of the vote.

Which brings us to one last point: the current preoccupation with the total number of votes cast. During a televised statement in 1993, In Tam, the leader of the Democratic Party, urged his fellow people to go and vote to guarantee that Cambodia would no longer be isolated:

“Please participate in the elections; so that there are 90 percent or even more, so that they can see that we want to be a country that obeys the law and lives under the rule of law… Today they regard us as people living under the rule of the jungle, today there is nobody who recognises us; so if we do not all go to the elections, if we can’t be bothered to vote, then we will continue being a country that is excluded from the global community, so mobilise everything there is.”

And indeed, 90% did turn out, providing observers with the key element of their success story—despite the fact that both before and after the ballot it was business as usual and power-play and bargaining, not the will of the people, determined the end result.

Image result for mou sochua

Today, Sam Rainsy and his supporters urge the Cambodian people to stay at home to demonstrate that democracy can survive. Those who must go, they say, should spoil their ballots. They have dismissed all other parties as puppets or traitors and will claim every vote not cast for any party.

It is likely because of the tendency of the former CNRP members to bring up the Paris Peace Agreements, in their appeals from abroad, that people continue to regularly bring up UNTAC themselves: “they [UNTAC] installed the two prime ministers and then just left”, a shop owner said yesterday. A few days earlier she had also noted that “nobody will come to help because they already spent so much money then”.

Many commentators have loudly declared these elections “a farce”, “already over”, and “history” weeks before the polls have opened. And while it is true that Hun Sen is not going to disappear from the world stage by means of this vote, such statements are dismissive of those who are still grappling with the question of what the right decision under these difficult circumstances is.

To those people, who had neither the luxury to learn about the country’s history in libraries or archives, nor the convenience to observe and comment from the sidelines, it is the memory of another election that looms large: that of 1998 and the clashes leading up to it that turned Phnom Penh once again into a war zone.

Ahead of Sunday’s vote, Hun Sen’s government has conducted riot training and provided new equipment to officers around the country. Two days before the vote people are wondering: is the current suspense the proverbial silence before storm, or is it the silence before the silence? And what is worse? “We have stocked up on dry noodles, just in case”, a market vendor said.

Looking back, it becomes painfully obvious that not only are Cambodia’s elections flawed, they are also a flawed vehicle to trace political change in Cambodia. To those still committed to peaceful change, the simplistic tales of “birth” and “death” of democracy are meaningless. Cambodians will, as one party official said, just continue to use and engage whatever space remains. “It is important for us as Khmer, the leaders and the citizens, we must try ourselves, trust in ourselves and hope. We cannot give up. If we give up, if we think it is impossible, if we only think of losing, who is going to help us?”

Henry Kissinger: ‘We are in a very, very grave period’

July 31, 2018

Henry Kissinger: ‘We are in a very, very grave period’

The grand consigliere of American diplomacy talks about Putin, the new world order — and the meaning of Trump


by Edward Luce July 20, 2018

Dr Henry A. Kissinger–The Metternich of Contemporary Foreign Policy

It was not hard to entice Henry Kissinger to meet for lunch. Though he is 95, and moves very slowly, the grand consigliere of American diplomacy is keen to talk. He hops on and off planes to see the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping with as much zeal as when he played the global chess game as Richard Nixon’s diplomatic maestro. He loves to be in the thick of things. Persuading him to say what he actually thinks is another matter.

Kissinger is to geopolitical clarity what Alan Greenspan was to monetary communication — an oracle whose insight is matched only by his indecipherability. It is my mission to push him out of his comfort zone. I want to know what he really thinks of Donald Trump.

The timing is perfect. We are having lunch the day after Trump met Putin in Helsinki — a summit that America’s foreign-policy establishment believes will go down as a low point in US diplomacy. Trump had done the unthinkable by endorsing Putin’s protestations of innocence of electoral sabotage over the word of America’s intelligence agencies. Later today Trump will unconvincingly try to undo what he said in Helsinki by insisting he meant “wouldn’t” instead of “would”. But it is too late for that. The New York Daily News has the screaming headline: “Open Treason” next to a cartoon of Trump shooting Uncle Sam in the head while holding Putin’s hand. There could be no better moment to jolt Kissinger off his Delphic perch.

I arrive with a minute or two to spare. Kissinger is already seated. He cuts a gnomish figure at a corner table in a half-empty dining room. A large walking cane is propped against the side wall. (He tore a ligament a few years ago.) “Forgive me if I don’t get up,” says Kissinger in his gravelly German accent. We are at the Jubilee, a cosy French restaurant just around the corner from Kissinger’s Midtown Manhattan apartment. It is only a few blocks from Kissinger Associates, the geopolitical consultancy that charges clients princely sums to hear what I assume are his unvarnished thoughts. My only inducement is a nice lunch. When we order, Kissinger checks whether he is my guest.

“Ah yes,” he says, chortling after I insist he is. “Otherwise that would be corruption.” He eats here often. “I had dinner here just last night with my daughter,” he says. On two or three occasions, someone comes over to shake his hand.

“I am the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN,” says one. “Who?” says Kissinger. “Ukraine,” the diplomat replies. “We think very highly of you.”

Kissinger’s face lights up.

“Ah Ukraine,” he says. “I am a strong supporter.”

Geopolitics weighs heavily on Kissinger. As the co-architect of the cold war rapprochement with China and détente with the Soviet Union, Kissinger now surveys a world in which China and Russia are both challenging the US world order, often in concert with each other.

But the doyen of cold war diplomacy is as interested in the future as he is in the past. This year Kissinger wrote a terrifying piece on artificial intelligence for The Atlantic Monthly, in which he compared humanity today to the Incas before the arrival of smallpox and the Spanish. He urged the creation of a presidential commission on AI. “If we do not start this effort soon, before long we shall discover that we started too late,” he concluded.

This summer Kissinger is working from home on a book about great statesmen and women (there is a chapter on Margaret Thatcher). He has just finished a section on Nixon, the president whom he served — uniquely — both as secretary of state and national security adviser. It is 25,000 words long and Kissinger is toying whether to publish it separately as a short book. He worries it will backfire. “It might bring all the contestants out of their foxholes again,” he says. Do you mean that it could provoke comparisons between Watergate and Trump’s Russia investigation, I ask. “That is my fear,” he replies. Before I have a chance to follow up, Kissinger switches to Thatcher. “She was a magnificent partner,” he says. “I am a believer in the special relationship because I think America needs a psychological balance and this is a natural one based on history — not just on contributions.”

Image result for Britain's Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington

Our starters arrive. Kissinger has a plate of chicken liver pâté, which he consumes with gusto. He has tucked his napkin bib-style into his upper shirt. I want to talk about Trump. Kissinger is keen to stay on Britain. I ask him about Lord Carrington (pic above), the former British Foreign Secretary, who resigned in 1982 to carry responsibility for failing to stop Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands, and who died, aged 99, this month. On the day of Carrington’s death, Boris Johnson, the most recent British Foreign Secretary, quit with very different motives. You could say the first resigned with honour and the second with dishonour.

“I loved Lord Carrington,” says Kissinger with feeling. “I never went to England without seeing him.” In all their years of friendship, Carrington did not once complain about having to resign, says Kissinger. “He said to me: ‘What is the point of assuming responsibility if you then whisper to your friends that you are not really responsible?’ I don’t think we have that quality any more because for that you need a tradition that you take for granted and we no longer can.” Johnson certainly doesn’t embody it, I suggest. “I don’t think Carrington thought much of Johnson,” Kissinger replies.

What did Kissinger make of the Helsinki summit? His answer is halting.

I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences

“It was a meeting that had to take place. I have advocated it for several years. It has been submerged by American domestic issues. It is certainly a missed opportunity. But I think one has to come back to something. Look at Syria and Ukraine. It’s a unique characteristic of Russia that upheaval in almost any part of the world affects it, gives it an opportunity and is also perceived by it as a threat. Those upheavals will continue. I fear they will accelerate.”

Kissinger embarks on a disquisition about Russia’s “almost mystical” tolerance for suffering. His key point is that the west wrongly assumed in the years before Putin annexed Crimea that Russia would adopt the west’s rules-based order. NATO misread Russia’s deep-seated craving for respect. “The mistake NATO has made is to think that there is a sort of historic evolution that will march across Eurasia and not to understand that somewhere on that march it will encounter something very different to a Westphalian [western idea of a state] entity. And for Russia this is a challenge to its identity.” Do you mean that we provoked Putin, I ask.

“I do not think Putin is a character like Hitler,” Kissinger replies. “He comes out of Dostoyevsky.”

Our main courses arrive. Kissinger has ordered branzino on a bed of green vegetables. He barely touches the dish. “No, but it was very good,” he says later when the waitress offers to pack it into a box. By contrast, I eat most of my Dover sole and Brussels sprouts. We are both drinking Badoit sparkling water, which Kissinger has specifically requested. I sense I am losing my battle to get him on to Trump — or failing to detect his hidden message. Is he saying we are underestimating Trump — that, in fact, Trump may be doing us the unacknowledged service of calming the Russian bear? Again, there is a pause before Kissinger answers.

“I don’t want to talk too much about Trump because at some point I should do it in a more coherent way than this,” Kissinger replies. But you are being coherent, I protest. Please don’t stop. There is another pregnant silence. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident.”

By now Kissinger has abandoned his halfhearted stabs at the fish. I know he has briefed Trump. He has also met Putin on 17 occasions. He reports the contents of those meetings to Washington, he tells me. I try a different tack. To whom does Trump compare in history, I ask. This also fails to do the trick. Kissinger goes off on a tour d’horizon of the health of European diplomacy. He can find no leader who excites him, with the possible exception of France’s Emmanuel Macron. “I can’t yet say he’s effective because he’s just started but I like his style,” says Kissinger. “Among other European statesmen, Angela Merkel is very local. I like her personally and I respect her but she’s not a transcendent figure.”

Image result for Zbigniew Brzezinski and Kissinger

Which diplomatic brain would he compare in today’s US establishment to himself, say, or the late Zbigniew Brzezinski (pic with Dr. Kissinger) — his former sparring partner, who also served as national security adviser? The mention of Brzezinski triggers something. “When Zbig died, which was a great surprise, I wrote to his wife that no death has moved me quite as much as his,” Kissinger says, again with evident feeling. “Zbig was almost unique in my generation. We both considered ideas about the world order to be the key problem of our time. How could we create it? We had somewhat different ideas. But for both of us, we were above all concerned to raise diplomacy to that level of influence.” Who is asking those questions today, I ask. “There is no debate today,” Kissinger replies. “It is something we need to have.”

I cannot shake the feeling that Kissinger is trying to tell me something but that I am too literal to interpret it. Like a blindfolded darts player, I try a number of different throws. What would Germany become if Trump pulled America out of NATO? Kissinger likes that question but declines to give odds as to its likelihood. “In the 1940s, the European leaders had a clear sense of direction,” he says. “Right now they mostly just want to avoid trouble.” They are not doing a very good job of it, I interrupt. “That’s true,” says Kissinger with a cryptic smile. “One eminent German recently told me that he always used to translate tension with America as a way to move away from America but now he finds himself more afraid of a world without America.” So could Trump be shocking the rest of the west to stand on its own feet, I ask. “It would be ironic if that emerged out of the Trump era,” Kissinger replies. “But it is not impossible.”

The alternative, Kissinger adds, is not appealing. A divided Atlantic would turn Europe into “an appendage of Eurasia”, which would be at the mercy of a China that wants to restore its historic role as the Middle Kingdom and be “the principal adviser to all humanity”. It sounds as though Kissinger believes China is on track to achieve its goal. America, meanwhile, would become a geopolitical island, flanked by two giant oceans and without a rules-based order to uphold. Such an America would have to imitate Victorian Britain but without the habit of mind to keep the rest of the world divided — as Britain did with the European continent.

Kissinger is more circumspect on AI — a subject, he concedes, with which he is still grappling. But he is troubled by the unknown consequences of autonomous warfare — a world in which machines are required to take ethical decisions. “All I can do in the few years left of me is to raise these issues,” he says. “I don’t pretend to have the answers.”

I have little idea how Kissinger will take my next question. Is power an aphrodisiac? “What was the word?” Kissinger asks. “Aphrodisiac,” I repeat. I am quoting the famous Kissinger line that he made in the heyday of his career when he was still a single man. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he was as much known for his racy dating calendar as for affairs of state. “I would certainly say that being able to make decisions has a dimension that you don’t have in ordinary life,” Kissinger replies with the hint of a smile. That was a subtle answer, I tell him. “I did say that,” he replies. “But when I say these things they’re more intended to establish your cleverness than your life’s purpose. And it’s true to some extent. It is based on observation.”

By now we are on to the coffee. Mine is a double espresso. Kissinger has mint tea. I decide to take a final stab at the bullseye. We have been talking for almost two hours. If there is one recurring criticism of Kissinger, I tell him, it is that he goes to great lengths to preserve access to people in power at the expense of not speaking plainly in public. Isn’t now — of all moments — the right one to burn a bridge or two? Kissinger looks crestfallen.

“I take that seriously and a lot of people, good friends of mine, have been urging this on me,” he says eventually. “It could happen at some point in time.” There is no time like the present, I say with a nervous laugh.

“It is clear the direction I am going in,” he replies. “Is it clear to you?” Sort of, I reply. You are worried about the future. However, you believe there is a non-trivial chance that Trump could accidentally scare us into reinventing the rules-based order that we used to take for granted. Is that a fair summary?

“I think we are in a very, very grave period for the world,” Kissinger replies. “I have conducted innumerable summit meetings, so they didn’t learn this one [Helsinki] from me.”

It is clear he will not elaborate further. I ask him which period he would liken to today. Kissinger talks about his experience as a freshly minted citizen in US uniform serving in the second world war. He also reminisces about what brought the young German refugee to these shores in the first place. After Germany marched into Austria in 1938, Jews in Kissinger’s home town were told to stay indoors. His parents left for America when they could. “There was a curfew and German soldiers everywhere,” he says. “It was a traumatic experience that has never left me.” His reminiscence is carefully chosen.

Something like a biblical storm has descended since we sat down. One umbrella literally flew past the window. I help Kissinger through the soaking whiplash to his car. The driver takes his other arm. He is unsteady. I realise that I have been ungraciously interrogating a man almost twice my age. “Dr Kissinger has been looking forward to this lunch for days,” says the server after I return to borrow an umbrella. That is nice, I think — though I fear my Trump questions may have depressed his appetite.

Image result for Author Edward Luce

Edward Luce is the FT’s US national editor and author of ‘The Retreat of Western Liberalism’

‘Democracy has died’ in Cambodia. Really ?

July 28, 2018

‘Democracy has died’ in Cambodia. Really ?

Scared and on the run, members of the opposition mount campaign against legitimacy of strongman leader Hun Sen

Garment workers take pictures with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen
Hun Sen’s victory in the Cambodian election is seen as a foregone conclusion. Photograph: Samrang Pring/Reuters


Over the past ten months, Ky Wandara’s life has, by his own account, been hell. As the former treasurer of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) for 20 years he had fought to bring the dictatorial three-decade rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen to an end.

But in October, just weeks after Hun Sen began a crackdown which saw the CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, arrested for treason and the eventual dissolution of the party altogether, Ky Wandara was forced to flee to Thailand, along with over 100 CNRP members.

He has no hope of returning home. The crackdown in Cambodia has intensified and in Sunday’s election, Hun Sen has no legitimate challengers. While over 20 parties will run in the election, they are either considered to be bogus (candidates include an ex-warlord and a woman who claims that spirits came to her in a dream and instructed her to run) or puppets for Hun Sen.


Even though the CNRP’s key figures have been exiled, the party’s leader, Sam Rainsy, who lives in Paris, and Deputy CNRP President Mu Sochua, who is in Berlin, have led calls for voters to boycott the election as the only way to undermine Hun Sen’s inevitable victory. Hun Sen retaliated, calling the boycott “illegal”.

Most CNRP exiles remain in Thailand, but such are the reaches of Hun Sen, they all still live in secret, many moving location every few days to ensure they are not found and handed back to Cambodia. According to Ky Wandara, CNRP exiles were warned by those still in Cambodia that the authorities had sent 400 agents over the border to track them down and monitor their movements in Thailand.

‘We are alone’

“It is scary and lonely,” Ky Wandara says. Having managed to get political asylum in New Zealand in January, he is one of the only exiles who has felt free to describe his ordeal without fear of compromising his safety. There are still over 100 living under the radar in Thailand.

“You have to move around to new accommodation every week for security, and we are alone because if we stay together you can be traced more easily,” he said. “Everyone is scared that the Thai authorities or Hun Sen’s spies will find them and force them back to Cambodia.”

Ky Wandara knew he would have to flee the country the moment he saw his name on the government list of 118 figures banned from politics last September.

“My wife told me recently that her car window was smashed and my driver just told me that the police had been following him because they thought I might still be in Cambodia. And for my colleagues in Battambang, whenever they go out from their homes, the police follow them.”

For those who did escape, much of their fear is rooted in a rumoured deal between the Cambodian and Thai authorities in which the two countries are thought to have agreed to send back wanted dissidents. Last year Hun Sen called on Thai authorities to “chase” CNRP exiles living in Bangkok and several of the dissidents have since been visited by the Thai police.

Their worst fears were confirmed in February when the Thai authorities sent back Sam Sokha, a Cambodian woman who ran away to Thailand after being caught on film throwing her shoe at an image of Hun Sen, despite her being recognised as a political refugee by the United Nations.

A dangerous campaign

The plight of the exiles in Thailand is just one element of a climate of fear that has gripped Cambodia in the build up to the election on Friday. With no legitimate opposition, Hun Sen’s victory is seen as a foregone conclusion. Even the election monitors have close ties to the prime minister – one is being run by his son.

“This election is a sham, a disaster,” Mu Sochua, the CNRP deputy president who also lives in exile, told the Guardian. “There is no way for voters to express themselves in this election – there is widespread intimidation and threats – and there is nothing legitimate about this election at all. We will continue to call on voters to boycott the election.”

The Cambodian election body recently declared calls for boycott a “crime”, while the Chief of Police has said the “clean fingers campaign” – a reference to the absence of indelible ink voters use to mark their skin after casting a ballot – is “equivalent to preventing people from voting” and therefore “illegal”. Interior minister Sar Kheng said voters who took part in the boycott could face fines of up to $5000.

The Guardian spoke to numerous voters and former CNRP members who have faced intimidation and threats of imprisonment by authorities for voicing support of a boycott. A garment worker at a factory on Veng Sreng Boulevard, where post-election workers protests were violently suppressed by Cambodia’s paramilitary forces in 2014, shared a rumour she heard on the factory floor. “I heard if I do not go to vote, the factory will fire us,” she said, asking to remain anonymous.

Villagers in the former opposition stronghold of Kampong Cham have been greeted by CPP authorities going door-to-door in recent weeks, and are being told that if they don’t vote for the CPP their lives will be made difficult. One villager, who was overheard saying he would rather sleep than vote on 29 July, was threatened with prison if he repeated the sentiment.

Chak Sopheap, from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said voter turnout had become an “extremely sensitive” topic for the ruling party.

“This election has become more of a referendum on the government’s legitimacy,” she said. “The pressure to vote is fierce.”

“Those calling for a boycott have repeatedly been labelled as traitors and revolutionaries by senior government officials. In rural areas, people with ‘clean fingers’ can be easily identified by local authorities and party activists from the ruling party, and many are fearful of the consequences.”

Despite those consequences, Than Sorith, a member of the CNRP working group in Kampong Cham, was still determined to abstain from voting on Sunday.

“I will not go to vote, I will boycott,” he said. “We have to do something, not just stay quiet. We must be brave.”

Education and Schooling–What’s Our GPS?

July 27, 2018

Education and Schooling–What’s Our GPS?

By Dr. Azly Rahman@ Columbia, NYC

Image result for Bertrand Russell on Education

COMMENT | Education, that gentle profession, that conveyer belt of social reproduction, that process called schooling, and that idea of “educare” (from the Latin) or to draw out human potential is again, a main topic of concern for us Malaysians these days. A very serious journey, often treacherous, requiring good stewardship.

Where is our global positioning system (GPS)? Where are we heading? What is our reading of the global sustainable development goals and how do we use that understanding to plan for mega-structural changes?

What areas must we focus on in order to see these five years as ones where we make drastic changes to renew prosperity in education – beyond this current political-economic malaise, the World Bank report, at times disheartening results of PISA or TIMSS surveys, fragmented and divisive schooling, pursuit of trivialities in maiden-steps of reform, and endless ethnic and religious politicisation further threatening the hope for national reconciliation (if not “unity”)?

What would be the nature of the systemic change and renewed philosophical orientation we need, in order to capture the nobility of multiculturalism/pluralism as the best way to include all Malaysian citizens in this gentle journey called ‘education’?

How do we bring back learning into the classroom and put the child back in the centre of attention so that we may again see human self-flowering and flourishing?

I have addressed these issues in the past through the seven volumes of writing published over the last five years. My passion for translatable concepts in education, critical consciousness, and “cultural action for freedom” (borrowing the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire’s words) has made me become worried if we are indeed seeing Malaysian educational leaders asking the right questions, let alone attempt to focus on systemic, structural changes that would bring the desired measurable sense of equity, equality, and equal opportunity to our children, regardless of race, religion, color, creed.

Image result for Plato on Education

I wrote an open letter to Malaysia’s future education minister the week the new government assumed power. I wasn’t sure if the opinions were what leaders and policy makers were interested in paying attention to, but that was not my concern. I wrote out of deep passion and concern of what we have gone through in trying to find meaning in education and national development, and the shape of what we will continue to chart.

Focusing questions

What are we to do with our educational mission, philosophy, ideology, paradigm, pedagogy, process, passion, and the possibilities of a truly progressive and reflective nation? We must reconstruct, rejuvenate, and reconfigure the entire gamut of learning and teaching, from each brain cell/neural connection to the collective building of a civilisation based on the principles of cosmopolitanism, from the womb to the grave – in order to affect radical changes.

These considerations are not new, but to translate into sustainable effort of seeing progress through and through will be a novel agenda.

Essentially these are the considerations that are missing in the Malaysian education system, albeit the grand and elegant language of systemic change and yes, the world ‘systemic’ needs to first be reconstructed, as in any work that needs to be done on the reconstruction of philosophy.

The big questions by way of a ‘backward design’ or with the end in mind, are, “what will be the shape of society we envision collectively as Malaysians”, and “what kind of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual evolution do we wish to see in each child”, and how must schooling respond to these twin demands of a vision.

In the late 80s when I started this gentle and passionate profession called “teaching”, I was fortunate to be involved in an effort to create a highly engaging environment and cultural context of learning, working with other dedicated educators day in, day out to prepare determined and dedicated youth to secure places, by their own achievements, in top-ranking institutions in the United Sates, the UK, and other countries.

Image result for columbia university

These are some the places they were accepted into: Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Wharton School of Business in U Penn, Stanford, University of Paris – Sorbonne, Carnegie Mellon, Monash, Australian National University, London School of Economics, Warwick, Royal Institute of Surgeons in Ireland, Australian National University, and many other places of academic repute – an effort worth replicating should one know the proper ingredients and recipes of educational success framed evolvingly and contributing to the idea of “human and social engineering”.

Image result for Rosmah Mansor

Greedy Rosmah Mansor– Product of a Malaysian Failed Education System

In short, how do you design a system that will bring bright and eager-to-learn children from the rubber estates, the city slums, the kampungs, into the classrooms of the most prestigious universities in the world? This is not a simple task of parroting the rhetoric of “world-classism” alone that we must all work together in crafting.

Highest quality for all

There has to be a renaissance or a rebirth in the way we conceptualise the schools we wish to build for children of all Malaysians. Many are asking this question: Why must parents be made to worry about the future of their children by way of economic worry?

Why must good and safe schools that ensure learning happens be prohibitively expensive and reserved for children from parents whose major worry is when to get a new Bentley, Maserati, or the latest Jaguar or a private jet in the way they move around and about in this world?

Or even worse, to get a US$20 million diamond ring or a US$30 million apartment in New York in the way they consume themselves whilst the poor are not just neglected, but asked to think positive about price hikes and to be less lazy.

Image result for The Village Boy in Malaysia

Our brainstorming session on such hope in educational renewal must begin with these simple questions:

“What kind of schools does each Malaysian child deserve?” And, “how must we be true to ourselves in making sure that our children have the best teachers, technology, and tender loving care, as soon as they enter schools?”

“How do we turn them into the everyday geniuses and make them love the country, be productive enough to care for their fellow men and women?

These are philosophical, political, and psychological questions we must address if we are to build schools that will not turn out to be “successful failures”.

This should be our topic for the great national school debate for this new regime we have some hope for. Otherwise we will, again, be lost and be fighting endlessly for the directions to get out.

Related image

AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


A New Malaysia? #2: Media with Boo Su-Lyn & Zurairi AR


A New Malaysia? #2: Media with Boo Su-Lyn & Zurairi AR



In this podcast, Dr Ross Tapsell, Director of the ANU Malaysia Institute, speaks with Boo Su-Lyn and Zurairi Abdul Rahman about what has and hasn’t changed about the way the media reports politics and policy after Malaysia’s 14th general election.

This podcast was produced with the support of the Malaysia Institute and the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

About the guests

Boo Su-Lyn (Twitter: @boosulyn) is an assistant news editor and columnist at The Malay Mail. She is a co-founder of BEBAS, a movement that promotes equality, secularism and an end to racial and religious discrimination.

Zurairi Abdul Rahman (Twitter: @zurairi) is an assistant news editor and columnist at The Malay Mail. He previously wrote and researched at The Malaysian Insider. He was a co-founder of Unscientific Malaysia (2008–2011), a local online community which promotes science and scepticism.



The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy

July 29, 2018

The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy


The first hint of a turbulent day in U.S. foreign policy appeared in a one-sentence statement distributed by e-mail on Wednesday afternoon. Just a week after President Trump invited the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to a second summit, in Washington, this fall, the White House announced that the meeting was being postponed.

“The President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year,” the national-security adviser, John Bolton, said in a statement.

The Administration had faced scathing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats over the invitation, especially when details are still scant over what happened at the first summit, in Helsinki, on July 16th. The proposed Putin visit to the Oval Office would also have been on the eve of the high-stakes U.S. midterm elections, in which the Russians are reportedly meddling again. Last week, the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned of “ongoing, pervasive efforts” by the Russians “to undermine our democracy.”

Image result for Messy Donald Trump

Messy Trump at work

More broadly, questions have grown since Helsinki—and other recent Trump summits with North Korea, the G-7 economic allies, and the twenty-eight other NATO nations—about Trump’s unruly U.S. foreign policy. The optics in Washington are not good.

Minutes after the Bolton statement, Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chastised President Trump during a hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The President had “appeared submissive and deferential” alongside Putin, Corker said. He has deliberately “used false information to turn public opinion” against the NATO military alliance, a cornerstone of U.S. security. In meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Corker said the President had legitimized “one of the most ruthless leaders on the planet.” He had also taken to issuing “off-the-cuff” challenges to basic principles of the global order. For months, Trump has been “antagonizing our friends and placating those who clearly wish us ill.” The Helsinki summit is “perhaps the most troubling example of this emerging reality,” he said.

“From where we sit,” Corker, who is retiring, added, “it appears that, in a ready-fire-aim fashion, the White House is waking up every morning and making it up as they go.” America’s top lawmakers, he warned, “are filled with serious doubts” about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. He appealed to Pompeo, saying, “Help convince us that those at the White House know what they are doing,” and “I can’t say it more forcefully. We really need a clear understanding as to what is going on.”

Image result for Senator Bob Menendez

Senator Bob Menendez

Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee, chimed in that—ten days after the Helsinki summit—U.S. lawmakers had heard more about what happened in the private session between Trump and Putin from Russian statements than from White House briefings. “We don’t know what the truth is, because nobody else was in the room where it happened,” the New Jersey Democrat said. In three hours of grilling, Pompeo repeatedly claimed that the President had fully briefed him. But he offered few insights and sidestepped straightforward questions about exactly what Trump and Putin discussed.

The White House appears to be scrambling to prove it has a coherent foreign policy. An hour before Pompeo testified on the Hill, the State Department issued the “Crimea Declaration.” The United States, it pronounced, will not recognize Russia’s strategic annexation of Crimea, in 2014, after its invasion of Ukraine. Citing the United Nations charter, dating back seven decades, the State Department noted, “No country can change the borders of another by force.”

That statement contradicts what Trump has repeatedly suggested since his first run for public office, in 2016. At the G-7 summit last month, in Canada, he reportedly said the majority of Crimea’s residents “would rather be with Russia.”

The Administration is also gyrating on Russian election interference in the United States. On Sunday night, the President tweeted that claims of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election are “all a big hoax”—dismissing the unanimous findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and Coats’s statement last week. On Wednesday, in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo insisted that Trump fully accepts intelligence reports of Russian interference in 2016. He has “a complete and proper understanding of what happened,” Pompeo said. “I know—I briefed him on it for over a year,” when he headed the C.I.A.

Now America’s top diplomat, Pompeo claimed that the Administration had taken a “staggering” array of punitive actions against Russia, including the expulsion of sixty Russian spies, closing Russian consulates, and the sale of defensive military material to Ukraine. The President is “well aware of the challenges that Russia poses” today, Pompeo said. (Neither the Secretary nor the State Department speechwriters caught the erroneous reference in his opening statement to more than two hundred U.S. sanctions imposed “on Russian entities and individuals in the Trump Administration.”)

The Administration’s attempt to appear tougher on Putin may, in fact, be a response to Russian reticence. On Tuesday, the Kremlin showed tepid interest in the invitation to a second summit. “It seems to me that, for now, it would be right to wait for the dust to settle before having a businesslike discussion of all issues,” Putin’s foreign-policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, told the news agency Interfax. “But not now.”

Russia is not the only Trump foreign-policy issue facing questions. On Wednesday, Pompeo engaged in testy exchanges with several senators on issues ranging from Syria to arms-control treaties. The Administration is struggling, in particular, to prove that its bold decision to meet with the North Korean leader in Singapore last month is leading to progress. So far, there is still no formal agreement on what “denuclearization” actually means. Pressed on whether North Korea is still advancing its nuclear capabilities, Pompeo refused to answer the question—or say publicly that Pyongyang has at least frozen its weapons program. The Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey charged that that there is “no verifiable evidence” that North Korea is keeping its promise.

“I am afraid that, at this point, the United States, the Trump Administration, is being taken for a ride,” Markey said. Pompeo, who has travelled to Pyongyang three times since Easter to take the lead on diplomacy, shot back, “Fear not, senator.” But he offered little detail to counter reports of White House frustration with North Korea’s stalling tactics.

“After nearly three hours, here is my takeaway,” Menendez said at the end of the session. “This Administration is increasingly not transparent. It’s not transparent as to what takes place at these summits . . . I really don’t believe, Mr. Secretary, you know what happened during the President’s two-plus-hour conversation with President Putin. And I really don’t know much more about the summit after sitting here for three hours than I did before.”

The Administration did make tentative progress on Wednesday to avert a trade war with America’s closest allies in Europe. In a surprise development, Trump and the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced new negotiations on trade barriers and a pledge, for now, to defer new tariffs. “While we are working on this, we will not go against the spirit of this agreement unless either party terminates the negotiation,” Trump said at a hastily organized appearance with Juncker.

Like the nuclear talks with North Korea and the summitry with Putin, however, the agreement with the European Commission on tariffs contains a big idea but is still short on details—with tough negotiations ahead. The Administration has yet to ink a final deal to resolve any major issue.

The Cinema Society Hosts The Screening Of "The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee"