Musings on a nation gone half-mad


April 14, 2019

Musings on a nation gone half-mad

Opinion  |  Azly Rahman

Published:  |  Modified:

 

 

https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/musings-on-a-nation-gone-half-mad/

COMMENT | Like all of you esteemed readers, I sometimes do not know what to make of the world we are living in. Especially that of our beloved country. But think about it, we must.

The wealthy and the powerful are having a field day, during the remains of their day perhaps, in a world ever changing wherein information wants to be free and the cybernetic world can help the maddening masses bring mad leaders down. In my half-wide awakeness, these past few days, I thought of these:

Malays and the syndrome of Harry Houdini

Reading about the state of things, I see academics continue to sell their soul to the forces of idiocy, to the deep state of decadence guised as traditional authority! Academics loyal to the power of hegemonic-idiocy, possessed, diseased hearts and minds, unfit to be teachers of ethics in society.

But that is their right to be intelligent or to be ignorant. Their right to give advice, to make things better, or to make matters worse. Their right to be ideologues, intelligentsia, or purely intelligent beings who will not sell their soul for any pound of gold. To be a sophist or to be a Socrates.

In my musings, I thought of these: No society will need monarchs to protect it, if each member takes pride in being a natural-born aristocrat with a free spirit.

Malays are too slow in releasing themselves from the shackles of feudal fear and mentality. Move faster. Question authority! Malay feudalism is merely a social construct borne out of a historical accident, lasting as long as the rakyat continue to surrender their mind, body and spirit.

Modern-day slavery continues to define our economic condition. The system of social injustice prevails, like a cultural logic of late capitalism gone illogical.

There is this cultural disease in Malaysia, manufactured. It is self-fear. Like a selfie of a one’s fear. Fear of other races instilled in the Malay mind is for the benefit of the powerful, political, and the feudal. For survival.

Malaysians must understand that today’s war is not about race and religion, but about class: of the powerful versus the powerless. Of the have-a-lots versus have-nots. A long war ahead, to redefine the way of the world and act upon it.

Too much bad history has plagued this most-obedient-people in the world. Only when Malays are taught critical reasoning, critiquing feudal ideology, and “liberation theology” will they be free.

The political and the feudal deep states have been using the old British colonial strategy of divide and enslave in order to maintain the status quo. In the Malay tradition, the idea of blind loyalty to feudalism must be dismantled. It is unfit for Malay intelligence of the Industry 4.0 era, especially.

In all cultural traditions, there are enabling and disabling aspects. Extract, reflect upon, revise and reconstruct those which are useless to the advancement of human cognition and liberation.

There is now a battle of cognition over culture in the Malay psyche. I presume a liberated Malay mind will never kowtow to any monarch, politician, ayatollah, or any master of slavery. We must end this form of mental imprisonment.

We must, especially, set the youth free. But freedom for Malay youth does not mean freedom to join Mat Rempits or neo-Nazi groups. That will be suicidal freedom.

There is this malaise in the south. This idea brought me to a related notion of hegemony and false consciousness. “Bangsa Johor” is an invented “nation” living in an oxymoron: being fearful of feudalism, yet showing absurdist freedom.

Today’s grand hypocrisy

In countries ruled by “Muslim monarchs,” you seldom find true Islam, mostly hypocrisy. Abuse of Islam is everywhere. Look around. In Malaysia, the more politicians claim Malay-Muslim parties will defend and protect Malay-Muslims, the more you find national robbery done nicely. Even the Pilgrimage Fund, the holiest of holy investment body, got robbed holistically, done religiously.

In today’s political chaos, we need a Napoleon with the heart of Socrates, the mind of Plato and Cicero, to return. In today’s politics, the Malay masses is the ageing Hang Tuah, blind-obedient, watching Jebat and the King fight over wealth. People are helpless, drained by the hope they held for 60 years. After a year of regime change, hope is slowly turning into yet another period of hopelessness.

In the case of the recent U-turn decision on the Rome Statute, are you justified to pull out of the Rome Statute when one has always wanted to be known as a “Third World warrior”? Aren’t we tired of claims of political conspiracy and coup d’état when the real issue is of no principle and the leaders involved could not make a stand? However dumb and dumber a president is, at least Americans have two terms maximum to suffer. Malaysia?

Let us take seriously the comical North-South Malaysian Cold War brewing. Today’s Pakatan Harapan–Johor government squabble is opening up an exciting dialogue on the role and responsibilities and limits of the monarchy.

The debate on the balance of power, the nature and future of the monarchy, and the growing voice of the people in deciding who is abusing power and what then must the rakyat do – these are demonstrations of a mature Malaysian democracy. Cultivate this wisely, but surely.

The wealthy and the powerful

Wealth and power have intoxicated those who are supposed to make Malaysia a better democracy. Arrogance will be overthrown. Race, religion, and the royalty will no longer be conveniently used as weapons of disharmony when information is set free.

It’s crucial now that our education system be transformed to teach the history of the people more than the history of the monarchy. In the Age of Post-Humanism, The Age of Kings will give way to The Age of Reason and Malay Enlightenment.

Over the decades, the intelligence and rationalism of the Johoreans have been eroded by this sense of false consciousness. Power and wealth held by the display of the sword, gold, and mental and physical enslavement cannot be sustained.

There was never a “protection of Malay rights”. Only a licence and reason to plunder, propped as an absurd symbol of tradition. The 1MDB fiasco and many others swept under the carpet or yet to be uncovered, are testaments to the magnitude of plunder.

Never in my life have I humiliated my mind by kowtowing to any form of modern and traditional authority. Never will. I

I believe Johoreans should be obsessed with books, and not just with football. The latter can be a passage to mind control and mob mentality. Besides, there is no Bangsa Johor. There is only Rakyat Malaysia.

Our goal as a nation is to treat each citizen with equality under the shadow of the Constitution’s supremacy. Young Johoreans, who do not know history, are cemented with fear, football, and false consciousness. Free them!

Thomas Jefferson revisited

Thomas Jefferson, statesman, author, an admirer of the Enlightenment thinkers and, most importantly, the author of the American Declaration of Independence did not want King and Religion to be foundations of the new nation.

In the case of what is happening in the Islamic world, we see chaos. Islam hates hypocrites. So, why do hypocrites appoint themselves as defenders and rulers of Islam?

In difficult cognitive times like these, I seek refuge in the work of, amongst other philosophers, the humanists such as Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot. And Marat and Robespierre.

Will we ever get out of this madness? Like Harry Houdini, the escape artist?

This is the question of our times. We are in a black hole.


AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He holds a doctorate in international education development from Columbia University, New York City, and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honour Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

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

 

 

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?


April 13, 2019

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?

by Fareed Zakaria.com

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/11/who-understands-our-times-bernie-or-the-donald

There are many explanations for Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in this week’s election that have to do with Israel’s particular situation — its economic boom, stable security climate and the prime minister’s political talent. But he is also part of a much larger phenomenon: the continued strength of populist nationalism around the world — and the continued inability of left-of-center parties to respond to it.

Image result for BERNIE AND TRUMP

 

The case for populist nationalism goes something like this. It’s a nasty world out there. People are trying to take our jobs, undermine our security, move into our country. The cosmopolitan urban elites don’t care; they benefit from these forces. So we need a tough guy who will stand up for the nation and against the liberals in our midst.

In some variant or another, this is the argument made by Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi, Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Jair Bolsonaro, the Brexiteers — and, of course, President Trump.

In 1972, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote that nationalism “expresses the inflamed desire of the insufficiently regarded to count for something among the cultures of the world.” He placed the roots of modern nationalism in Germany, a country obsessed with finding its place in the sun. But the sentiment — a kind of victim mentality — can be found in almost all modern variations, even among rich and powerful nations.

Look at Putin’s claim that Russia has been pushed around by the West since the Cold War, the Chinese obsession with their humiliation since the opium wars, the Israeli right’s complaint that the world is biased against Israel and Trump’s constant refrain that all foreigners — from Mexicans to Chinese to Europeans — take advantage of the United States. These leaders promise to rectify the situation and restore their countries’ proper standing in the world.

Trump’s embrace of the word “nationalism” illustrates the simultaneous attacks on domestic elites (with their politically correct language) and on perfidious foreigners. “We’re not supposed to use that word,” Trump said in October. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”

When asked the next day what he meant by the term, Trump responded, “I love our country. And our country has taken second fiddle. . . . We’re giving all of our wealth, all of our money, to other countries. And then they don’t treat us properly.”

Netanyahu, for his part, has long argued that Israel deserves a much better “place among the nations,” a phrase that was the title of his 1993 book that argued for a robust Israeli nationalism that is aggressive and unapologetic. Though Israel’s strength and security have grown immeasurably, as its historical enemies — Saudi Arabia and Syria, among others — have either become buddies or basket cases, the argument that the world is against it has somehow persisted.

In fact, despite the pose of victim hood adopted by most of these populists, nationalism is probably the most widely held ideology in the world today. Which American politician today does not speak up for the United States? The real debate is whether nationalism should be informed and influenced by other values such as liberty and equality and, if these two sets of values conflict, which one should be preferred. That’s why the most ardent capitalists — from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman — have always been in favor of globalization and economic freedom above nationalist protections and controls.

The danger for liberals is that they underestimate the power of these raw, emotional appeals. For centuries, liberals have assumed that nationalism was a kind of irrational attachment that would grow weaker as people became more rational, connected and worldly. In fact, Berlin wrote, like a twig that is bent in one direction and has to snap back, as globalization grew in its reach, nationalism would be the predictable backlash.

Populist nationalists understand the core appeal of their ideology. I recently asked a Bolsonaro supporter whether the Brazilian president’s economic policies (which are free-market-oriented and reformist) or his cultural nationalism was the key to his appeal. The supporter’s answer: Nationalism is the party’s core; the economics is simply about efficiency and growth.

Meanwhile, liberals in the United States still don’t seem to get it. The Democratic Party continues to think the solution to its woes is to keep moving leftward economically. This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) revealed his new Medicare-for-all plan, which was immediately co-sponsored by four other presidential candidates. The plan will probably require an additional $2 trillion to $3 trillion in annual tax revenue.At the same time, Trump tweets about the Democrats’ love of “open borders” and insists he will protect the country and enforce its laws. What if Trump understands the mood of our times better than Sanders?

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Mahathir justified in pulling out of Rome Statute


April 8, 2019

Mahathir justified in pulling out of Rome Statute

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan

Published:  |  Modified:

 

 

“And if we find whoever breaches the law – we don’t care who they are – we will take action, whether they are prince or pauper, we will take action. That is our stand.”

– Dr Mahathir Mohamad

COMMENT | If certain quarters assumed that “forcing” the Pakatan Harapan government to pull out of the Rome Statute was some sort of victory, reading the transcript of Mahathir’s press conference should be a reality check for them. If anything, the pugilistic response – even in defeat – is more of a slap in the face than anything in the Rome Statute.

Image result for Statute of Rome

Some people are disappointed that Harapan pulled out of the Rome Statute. Some people are disappointed with the non-Malay political operatives for supporting this move. It makes the Harapan government look weak when the far right forces, in collusion with certain members of the royal houses, disrupt a democratically elected government from carrying out policy decisions.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah rightly points out that the deep state – my term is the deep Islamic state – is mounting a vigorous offensive to usurp the democratic process in Malaysia.

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to usurp the legitimate aspirations of people who voted for the Harapan government.

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to derail a democratic process in the name of race and religion

This anti-democratic element must feel great that they have managed to make the prime minister of this country bend to their will and, of course, the non-Malay political operatives sit silently while Malay power structures flex their muscles.

This may sound strange, but I have a lot of sympathy for Lim Kit Siang  when he says this decision was forced upon them. This Rome Statute fiasco was initiated by elements who are not democratically elected, but who have the influence to plunge this country into a protracted constitutional crisis that could derail any form of reform, however small.

While Kit Siang wonders how people’s minds could be poisoned, the reality is that the “people” had nothing to do with this. The Rome Statute issue was not fuelled by populist sentiment in the Malay polity, but rather the machinations of certain individuals to erode the legitimacy of a democratically-elected government.

There was nothing Harapan political operatives could say or do, which would mitigate the damage done by individuals who have a stake in the intersection between commerce and royal prerogative, which has had a deleterious effect on the political process, but which has been condoned by the Malay political elite (in collaboration with non-Malay power structures) since independence.

Which is why Anwar’s response to this plot to destabilise democracy was predictable and disappointing. Mahathir was not “wise” to withdraw from this. It is never wise to withdraw from something that Anwar admits “is good for reforms, transparency and rule of law”.

Claiming that some concerns should be “assuaged” is bone-headed since we know, Harapan knows and anyone with a smidgen of intelligence knows, that there were never any legitimate concerns, only the concerns of individuals who decided to challenge a democratically elected leader, using the toxic politics of race and religion.

This is the issue here. What we have is a member of a royal house leading the charge to usurp the democratic process. The only options were:

(1) Confront those institutions which are hampering reforms head-on by signing the statute and probably creating a manufactured constitutional crisis (a royal showdown), or

(2) Reminding those people that even if the statute is abandoned, they will still be held accountable for any malfeasance they commit and the false hope that their station in life protects them from legal consequences is just that, a false hope.

The only viable option is to play the shadow game until Harapan gets its acts together by demonstrating that, even without the symbolism of such international treaties, it is willing to carry out reforms which, so far, Harapan has lacked the backbone to do.

This is payback for the Malay political elite who, for years played this race and religion game, are now confronted by genuine democratic impulses of a Malaysian polity restless for real change and stymied by the very institutions they defended for years.

Now, if Bersatu is the sole protector of race and religion that it wants to be, then things would be different. Suddenly the people would be knowledgeable and those individuals whose agenda is to stir up trouble would be bereft of political influence.

This is why Bersatu strategists and political operatives have been texting and calling me, pointing to this situation as the perfect example as to why Bersatu needs to beef up its presence in Harapan.

The prime minister is on his own here. While I may have a little sympathy for the ruling Harapan elite, this is the fault of Malay power brokers who have weaponised institutions and religion for years against the rakyat.

For years they used the royal institutions for their own purposes. Now the royal institution is flexing its muscles to curtail the agenda of democratically-elected leaders because the reality is that Harapan does not have the majority of the Malay community behind them.

If you think the attacks against the prime minister is getting harsh, think back on the fascists’ attacks against someone like Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (above) who is being investigated by the Harapan state for comments made about royalty.

In order to take on the anti-democratic forces in this country, Harapan has to commit to serious reforms, many of which would lay bare the toxic confluence of religious, racial, royal and corporate power in this country.

They have to stop demonising citizens like Fadiah Nadwa and commit to an agenda of reform, which does not necessarily mean signing on to international treaties, but rather, legislating and creating policies that empower the people and not merely anti-democratic institutions.

If Harapan does this, it will not be forced to do anything by the anti-democratic forces in this country and Malaysians will come to understand that all roads lead to Rome.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. A retired barrister-at-law, he is one of the founding members of the National Patriots Association.

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

Can Thailand’s junta manage the election’s outcome?


26 March, 27, 2019

Can Thailand’s junta manage the election’s outcome?

by James Ockey, University of Canterbury

ttps://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/03/20/can-thailands-junta-manage-the-elections-outcome/

For Thailand’s junta, the 2019 election is to be carefully managed so that the government can return to power with enhanced legitimacy, both among its own people and the international community. Yet the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) may have miscalculated its ability to control the elections effectively and so enhance its legitimacy.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha talks with a man as he visits Lumphini Park ahead of the general election, in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 March 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun).

The constitution and electoral laws were carefully designed to disadvantage the two large parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats. Meanwhile, the junta leaders are allowed to appoint the 250 senators who will join with elected MPs to choose the prime minister. The constitution also allowed junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha to be nominated for prime minister without membership in a party. This gives him greater flexibility in seeking the additional 126 elected MPs whose support is necessary for him to remain in his current position.

While writing a favourable constitution and electoral laws proved possible, managing the campaign process is much more difficult. Yet strong efforts are being made. Elections are under the purview of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT). PNet, an NGO that independently monitors the election process, recently awarded the ECT an ‘F’ grade for its performance, stating that it ‘has failed to demonstrate it is not under undue political influence’.

So far, the ETC has decided that a government handout to the elderly and the poor just prior to the beginning of campaigning did not violate election laws and that the pro-government Phalang Pracharat Party (PPRP) had not accepted illegal donations at a fundraiser. Most recently, it ruled that the prime minister could actively campaign with the party that nominated him (a step too far even for Prayut himself, who instead has chosen to follow the party on the campaign trail).

In contrast, in the case of the anti-government Thai Raksa Chart party, the ECT recommended dissolution without following its own procedures in a rush to judgement. The Constitutional Court would later follow that recommendation.

In January and February, I interviewed candidates from a range of parties, in all four regions of Thailand. None expressed any faith in the ECT. Candidates of pro-regime parties thought the ECT was ineffective. Candidates of anti-regime parties not only questioned the ECT’s capability, but also feared that it was focused on identifying any small violation of the law that would justify banning opposition candidates and parties.

Opposition parties also have to defend themselves from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). The NBTC sought to shut down the opposition-oriented Voice TV for 15 days during the election, only to see the decision reversed by the courts. Other threats have come from criminal investigations, with leaders of the Future Forward party charged under the Computer Crime Act.

Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, attempts to manage the outcome of the election appear to have created a backlash against the regime. Recent polling done by the Nation newspaper shows the PPRP winning just 62 of 350 constituency seats, with the anti-regime Pheu Thai party winning 136. A recent rally of the PPRP in Korat drew just a few hundred supporters, leaving thousands of empty seats.

Perhaps more interesting are the results of a recent King Prajadhipok Institute poll, which indicate that 96 per cent of eligible voters intend to vote. One would not expect that level of enthusiasm if voters were happy with the government and the status quo.

Political parties also seem to be reacting to anti-government sentiment. The Democrat party, which is likely to win the second most seats after Pheu Thai, recently announced that it would not support the return of Prayut as prime minister. The Democrat Party had previously been deliberately ambiguous regarding its stance. It also set conditions for potential pro- and anti-government coalition partners.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Bhum Jai Thai (BJT) party leader Anuthin Charnvirakul stated that the party will wait for the outcome of the election before finalising its stance, so that it can take into account the voice of the people. BJT has long been considered to be firmly on the government side. Answering this way, even as a campaign tactic, indicates concerns with being seen as too firmly on the side of the junta.

Despite these indications of very limited support for the government, it is expected that the junta will continue to manage the outcome. In the interviews I conducted in January and February, academics and candidates suggested that the junta will expend resources to convince both small parties and individual MPs to join the pro-government side after the election, ensuring support will go well beyond the elected members of the PPRP.

One leading member of a large party noted that the ECT has 60 days to certify the results of the election. They raised concerns that during that period anti-government parties might be dissolved to ensure the junta remains in power.

While Prayut is likely to return to power, it will not be with the clear mandate he seeks. The manipulation of the elections to ensure his return is more likely to result in a decline in legitimacy and support at home, although even a manipulated election may help relieve international pressure to return to democracy. Under such circumstances, concerns about future government stability are likely to remain.

James Ockey is Associate Professor at the School of Language, Social and Political Sciences, University of Canterbury

 

 

Weed out ‘clowns, comic characters’—A Kadir Jasin


March 11, 2019

Weed out ‘clowns, comic characters’—A Kadir Jasin

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/467383

Image result for Remove political clowns

As Pakatan Harapan’s first anniversary in power approaches, it is time for the coalition to weed out “clowns and comic characters” within its fold, said veteran newsperson A Kadir Jasin.

In a blog post today, Kadir said this is to restore the people’s declining trust in the coalition, as perceived from its losses in the past two by-elections in Cameron Highlands and Semenyih respectively.

“As the one-year milestone approaches, Harapan will be subjected to greater scrutiny by the people, the press and investors.

“To pass this public relations and confidence test, Harapan must improve its storytelling. It may even have to consider re-arranging or firing some cast members.

“The plot and narrative must be understood and believed by the people and the cast must be respected. There is no role for clowns and comic characters,” said Kadir, who is also the media adviser to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

According to Kadir, cabinet ministers, menteris besar and chief ministers must engage in self-examination and self-criticism where necessary.

The press and the people must not be blamed if the government is perceived to be “inept, arrogant, and aloof,” he added.

“Moving ahead, Harapan must work hard and smart to fulfil the aspirations of the people and to prove to them that it is not a one-term government, and it is here to stay.”

May 9 will mark Harapan’s first year in power after it won last year’s general election.

Kadir opined the coalition had made “pretty good progress” for itself and the country, since then.

The government would not be wrong in backtracking in promises made in the manifesto, if they are unrealistic and the actions taken thereafter cause hardship to the people and put the country at the risk of default, he stressed.

Delay in Najib’s cases

The veteran journalist further claimed that the people are getting impatient with the delay in the cases involving former premier Najib Abdul Razak, who is facing multiple charges of corruption, abuse and power and money laundering.

“The longer Najib (above) is allowed the freedom to make a mockery of the law, the greater is the risk of the people seeing justice as favouring the rich and the powerful. Or worse still, that he is not guilty,” said Kadir.

He called Najib’s new ‘Bossku’ persona as “nothing more than the last meal of a death row convict.”

“Najib knows his time is running out and he has to make the best use of it.

“In fact, with each passing day that he is allowed to make a mockery of the people, the worse it becomes for UMNO and the BN,” Kadir said.

Viewing Cambodia’s political development from the inside out–A REJOINDER


March 4, 2019

Viewing Cambodia’s political development from the inside out–A REJOINDER

 by Sim Vireak

facebook/Robert Kleiner Photography

This is in response to the article written by Kimkong Heng and Veasna Var entitled “Reversing Cambodia’s democratic drift” which appeared in East Asia Forum. The article raised three major points namely the alleged sham election, the decrease of legitimacy and the growing state autocracy.

I wish to reflect upon the nuances of the development of democracy in Cambodia through historical comparison and debate on the nature of autocracy.

Cambodia’s democracy should be viewed as still in the elementary school level if compared to other advanced and established democracies as discussed by Soun Nimeth , which appeared in Myanmar Times. He argued that viewing it from the nation-building perspective, Cambodia is among the top scorers. Its political development comprises three elements in tandem namely peace, strong economic growth and a certain level of democratisation, which is currently a rare case in the region.

..

Calling the 2018 election a “sham election” is rather a misplaced argument. Out of the 8.3 million registered voters, 83 percent went to vote, which is relatively high if compared to other countries with a non-compulsory electoral system. For instance, the Philippines had 60.6 percent in 2013, India 58.19 percent in 2009, the US 41.59 percent in 2010 and 55.7 percent in 2016, and Japan 53.68 percent in 2017.

Image result for cambodia elections july 2018

 

Nearly 1.5 million people voted in favour of another party than the Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP). If we consider the exceptionally high number of invalid votes of over 500,000, we can consider that more than two million voters (out of some 7 million) expressed a preference different from that of the CPP. The number of invalid votes is also a good indication of freewill and secrecy of ballot.

Compared with previous elections, there are two major historical developments that should deserve attention.

Firstly, it is the first election that was held with zero incidence of violence. There was less tension as contending political parties did not instigate class division, racial hatred, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism.

Secondly, there was absence of post-electoral confusion. Previously, after every general election, Cambodia’s government would be stalled by prolonged electoral deadlock, if not violence. Allegations on vote irregularities such as voters’ list, name duplication, voter registration and management, etc. were common. Such confusion had been neutralised thanks to the digitalisation of voters’ list, which was technically supported by Japan and the EU.

..

Arguing that the government’s legitimacy is under threat and is drifting towards autocracy does not reflect reality on the ground.

The authors got mixed up between the concept of “approval rating” and “legitimacy.” It is normal that the approval rating of President Trump, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel are decreasing but that does not mean that their legitimacy is under threat. Besides, legitimacy is not for outsiders to decide but for the Cambodian people.

Touching on arguments of autocracy, the high level of freedom of expression and freedom of association should be cited.

Media criticism is becoming a part of life for every Cambodian. Far from being autocratic, the government has been very sensitive towards public opinion.

The case in point is the violent incident involving land issues in Preah Sihanouk province. Four military police officers were disciplined after the probe and Preah Sihanouk provincial governor was publicly criticised by the Minister of Interior for the violent clashes with people. Recently, two deputy provincial governors were officially removed following the Supreme Consultative Council’s meeting last week.

..

Another incident involved the sacking of Ratanakkiri Provincial Military Police Chief Kim Raksmey after criticism on his handing out of $500,000 to his children at a birthday party.

Online media freedom is reaching the level of frenzy. Social media users in Cambodia are free to say practically almost anything you want against the government’s underperformance. Any foreigner who can read Khmer on Facebook would immediately understand that the language used in social media is clearly not an expression that can be used by people under suppression.

The two foreign affiliated radios, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) in Khmer, can be heard uninterrupted daily throughout the country along with their online webcast. The RFA and VOA are free to broadcast their daily tirades against the government, in the likes of animosity between President Trump and CNN. Their popular radio programme can be accessed anytime over the Net and also on Facebook. It is estimated that of the country’s 29.2 million mobile phone connections, 52 per cent have 3G or 4G broadband coverage.

Cambodia continues to be an “NGO paradise” with more than 5,000 operating freely and their voices are impactful. If they are under pressure, they should have voiced support for the EU as it launched procedural action to withdraw Cambodia’s trade preferences under the Everything But Arms scheme – an action the EU claims as necessary to save the opposition and civil society groups. The reality is that none of the civil society organisations operating in Cambodia have voiced their support for the EU’s latest action. So is the EU barking up the wrong tree?

Labeling Cambodia as autocracy stems from the misperception of Cambodia’s political development and the gross over-expectation of a performance beyond that of an elementary-level democracy. On top of that, geopolitical interests are also at play. These factors, indeed, exert pressure on the political, economic and strategic choices of Cambodia. However, it should be fair to say that such discussion should be separated from the context of the state’s legitimacy.

Sim Vireak is strategic advisor to Asian Vision Institute (AVI) based in Phnom Penh.

..