Cambodia: Time for Action, Not Rhetoric
Image Credit: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Cambodia: Time for Action, Not Rhetoric


Some important themes have emerged from the recent Cambodian general elections – both good and bad. The bad news is that the post-election period was, on some level, more of the same. There were accusations of irregularities and voter fraud, not to mention reports of intimidation and threats to opposition activists in major provinces across the country. Prominent ruling party members issued grim warnings of civil war should the opposition win, while mass demonstrations challenged the flawed election results, which saw Hun Sen confirmed as prime minister this week.

The good news is that political leaders of all stripes recognize the authentic power of young voters. With more than 50% of Cambodia’s population under the age of 25 and 70% under 35, it would be perilous to ignore them. In fact, that would be a surefire way to lose in five years. Unlike their predecessors, a healthy proportion of young Cambodians aren’t paralyzed by fear. They aren’t consumed by the country’s war-torn past; rather, they are gravitating toward the prospect of building an economically vibrant Cambodia. A more good news: young people have turned to social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, among other outlets) to mobilize for change. This is the new status quo.

This is the new Cambodia.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youngest son, Hun Many, understood the importance of appealing to youths. But his approach was flawed. Too often the appeal was to the “why” or “what” and not the “how.” How will the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) (or the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), for that matter) create jobs for youths? How will leaders increase wages for civil servants, and how will they actually pay for those increases? Young people don’t care about the “why” or “what.” They already have those answers. The focus ought to be on how opportunities will be created to close the gap. Similar to young millennial-type voters across the globe – young Cambodians aren’t pledging allegiance to the party – but rather to the agenda. In America, we call them Independent voters. If promises are made and then broken to youths, major parties should brace for another power struggle in 2018, with seats going to the next best candidate who delivers on promises. That you most certainly can expect.

A Cambodian Arab Spring?

Alarmists often suggest a possible “Arab Spring” in Cambodia. While this isn’t likely, despite a large disgruntled youth population, there is reason to believe that major shifts will occur in government policies, in phases over the next five years. One obvious change didn’t take very long. It was the recent announcement of a 30% pay raise for about 90,000 low-paid civil servants. That happened just ten days after the election results came out, with more than 20 seats occupied by the ruling party lost to the opposition. Civil servants have typically aligned with the ruling party, so the pay hike was certainly a wake-up call. Another inevitable change will focus on bridging the education-workforce gap for young people. There can be no compromising here if leaders want to stay in power. Disheartened youths are speaking out about this in public forums such as Facebook. How that actually unfolds remains to be seen. But the new government must double down on these policies, now.

As more youths graduate without jobs, patience will wane. We are seeing this happen across the globe, and Cambodia isn’t immune to this. An important trend emerging in the country is the acquisition of two concurrent bachelor’s degrees. Students believe this increases the probability of landing good jobs after college. In reality, though, many young people remain broke and unemployed after graduation, with a growing number believing it’s “who you know” not “what you know” – questioning the true value of a college education. That isn’t a good precedent to set, especially for a country mired in poverty and with a huge ambition to integrate with larger ASEAN economies by 2015. Most college-educated youths live and work in major cities, especially Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It’s no surprise National Assembly seats (particularly in those provinces) were swept by the CNRP, who made promises of change or b’do. But the CNRP too will need to put their words into action.

Tyler Lee
January 10, 2014 at 07:40

The problem with Cambodia is not being able to stay on their own feet without falling into chaos or falling into one or more of its neighbor’s influence for hundreds of years, either Thailand, Vietnam, France, or China. Also, many and many of them can be very violent (not that their neighbors don’t have any). The ones like Rainsy like to blame Vietnamese for all their collective failure throughout history, and wouldn’t even dare to cast a word against Chinese, who own and operate most of the foreign projects (including land grabbings and bringing in workers from China) in Cambodia. So, in seriousness, they don’t really want to focus on what will truly elevate their country on a policy basis, but rather concentrate their effort on hatred for vote against people they dislike.

September 10, 2013 at 10:35

When you think about it.  Everyone plays apart in this role of life suffering.  It the greed and the wants of not the people but the Govern themself, yet alone is the word war.   Meaning want all riches.  There never an ending battle of who to blame but, the stupidity of people with power, never knowing when to stop.  Using the poor and humanity  ignorants to do the job  for them.  Every countries has that, called!  "the war within." Why  not let them kill themself from within and we just wait.  Can't blame the poor but the ignorants of people gets the better of them.  Yeah you can say "I'm not like that," yet who's to say.   During that time was that the strongest win and the loser stay put or purish.   That was the worst of man doing, to many lives were lost,  friends, family you name it.  War is a word, people make it happen.  We can't win, when it comes to power.  A shade starts  from it's roots, in order for it to grow.  I love living in a world without war.  The world is made of to much different races and power of ther own.  Everywhere the same people have been through  this for so many life time. They havn't learn from their mistakes.  How can we as the people with no power of our own, stop this from happening?  No one could, it's already been  set to play.  Just hope for best, that we can survive this hell on earth. 

August 30, 2013 at 12:04

Are you running a campaign against Communism? Good, the Communists deserved brutal treatment to rebrainwash them for good.

But surfing around blogs, creating fail history facts or trying to rewrite it does not help Cambodia's position. Moaning about how bad of being harrassed only make the situation worse. Stiring hatred among countries is the fastest way to achieve patheticness and destruction.

The only way for Cambodians to improve their existence is to be more independent. Along the history, the Cambodians don't have their inner strength, they are fighting among themself. For foreign diplomacy, they choose to be influenced by the strongers and totally follow the strongest. In this world of conflict, that kind of mindset means ready to be manipulated. Read the history again, you would see my statement is true.

No Vietnamese asks any Cambodian to look at Vietnam as a savior, we were so wrong in the past, too, we don't deserve any admiration, please just be strong yourself and don't be stupid, that's a wish from a good neighbor.

Little Helmsman
August 27, 2013 at 05:30

@Viet Cong,

No blaming here.  Just a statement of fact that Viet Cong/NVA brought the war in Vietnam into Cambodia with the complicity of Sihanouk which enable the Khmer Rouge to rise to power.  The responsibility of Khmer Rouge rise to infamy was because of Hanoi and its twisted gospel of communism.  Enemy of decent human beings everywhere are communists (Chinese, VC, or Khmer Rouge).  Without the ideology of communism Indochina would have been spared the madness.  

August 26, 2013 at 17:21

Blaming is sign of impotence, laziness and stupidity. Anything that ignites hatred between people or between countries deserved a thumb down. 

The only way for Cambodia to be stronger in this world is to live peaceful with neighbors while striving for social stability, for economic, science and culture development. They have to do that themself.

Hassan Kasem
January 9, 2014 at 03:31

Your remark is right. We must not play a blame game. Let’s go straight to the truth, and if anyone denies the truth, he/she lives in a total darkness or ignorance. A piece of history should be enough: the land now called Vietnam includes a large chunk of the ancient kingdom of Champa, the land of Cham in Central Vietnam from Hue to Bien Hoa, and the Delta region belongs to the Khmer. Hegemonist policy of Vietnamese leaders continues to push for more land space as Vietnam’s population expands. Loas is gone and Cambodia is next. You can’t live in peace with your neighbors if one encroaches the other’s land. You can’t expect the victims to remain silent forever while the neighbor is taking everything from you. When the victims speak up to demand respect for their rights, you say they discriminate against the Vietnamese ethnic group. The self-proclaimed civilized people should admit the truth and try not to twist the history. We can live in peace-co-exsit-if we respect each other, are not greedy/cynical and hypocritical. We should all try to live a life not to be condemned in this world and the next.

Your brother in humanity,


Little Helmsman
August 21, 2013 at 02:56

Dear Excellency and friend,

I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion.

As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky.

But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.

Please accept, Excellency, my dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments. Sirik Matak.


I always thought this was one of the most poignant letters I have ever read.  The Khmer Rouge killed him several days later.  

And here is Hanoi Viet Cong role in the destruction of Cambodia. 

"He estimated there are about 35,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops still in the country, down from high ot 72,000 after Sihanouk was removed as chief of state Marh 18".,1994252

Hanoi's role in Cambodia is very dirty and should be acknowledged and remembered.   

Little Helmsman
August 19, 2013 at 06:20

I think of all the countries that had the tragedy of a country falling into the hands of a bunch of deluded utopian dreamers, the communists, Cambodia has by far suffer the most from this man made plague.  Over a 1/4 of Cambodia's population died at the hands of their demented rulers.  Now that is the shame of all humanity.  I express my deepest sorrow the international community did not do anything to help.  

I understand why some Cambodians would view Vietnamese communist troops as savior for deposing the Khmer Rouge.  However, I do think that is an incomplete picture and a distorted one at that.  One should also remember it was Hanoi who brought in their own troops into Cambodia to destabilize the country during the war in Vietnam.  They were the enablers of the Khmer Rouge which allowed the Khmer Rouge to grow in size and strength.  It was not enough for the old fools in Hanoi to make South Vietnam into a commie paradise, these old fools had to spread the communist disease into Laos and Cambodia.  Hanoi Vietnamese communists had over 100,000 NVA troops in the 70s.  And the areas where the Khmer Rouge rose to power were areas under Hanoi control.  Who did you think armed, trained, fed, and fought alongside Khmer Rouge?  A lot of Khmer Rouge cadres, in fact, trained in Hanoi because they were all one big happy socialist family!  It should be remembered that NVA troops not only operated alongside Khmer Rouge troops they also provided the logistics and supply lines which allowed the Khmer Rouge to operate and fought together in coordination against Lon Nol forces and South Vietnamese troops.  

A country that does not respect a neighbor's country right of neutrality is neither a good neighbor or a good friend.  The fact that Hanoi chose to ignore the neutrality of Cambodia by blatantly building bases and carrying out attacks from Cambodian territory is a complete disregard for right of non-belligerent state to not take part in the conflict.  So the Vietnam war became Cambodia's problem by extension of Hanoi's disregard for international law.  I'm not surprised that Hanoi would act that way because inside the DNA of thugs is a mind of a criminal.  I hope future generations of Cambodians born after the Khmer Rouge years understand that part of Cambodian history.  

A country that does not respect the right of neutrality is like a bad neighbor who does not respect your house and property.  He will come and go as he pleases regardless of how you feel.  It is like a person parking his car in your lawn and dumping garbage all over your lawn without your permission.  Now tell me who would want that as a neighbor?  

Please remember what Vietnamese communists did to their own people in Vietnam.  10s of thousands had to flee Vietnam by little boats to get away from these communists.  If Vietnamese communists who had so little respect for their own people who speak the same language, ate the same food, had the same religion, and shared the same name, then why would one think that they will respect Cambdians and come to the rescue of Cambodians because Khmer Rouge abuse?  Think about it.  Vietnamese communists overthrew Khmer Rouge for their own selfish motives so do not make them out to be romantic, noble heroes because these Vietnamese communists also abused and killed their Vietnamese people much the same way as Khmer Rouge killed Cambodians.  

It is a very tragic and traumatic history that South Vietnam and Cambodian had endured.  The enemy of decent people are the communists whether they are Khmer Rouge of Vietnamese communists.

So let's remember all victims of the Indochina wars who are not here with us today but we can acknowledge them as fellow human beings deserving of rights to live peacefully among their fellow man.  Let's not forget who robbed them of this right to live.       

Nguyen Noi Noi
August 17, 2013 at 16:57


Yes, I should condenm the stupidity and shallowness of the South Vietnamese govenment since 1956 to 1975. They are nothing but anarchy. How many coups happening? How many times the goverment changed? How many times generals in the army threw the established govenments? 

It is not the Viet Cong that the main causes, it is the anarchy. If you were so good, then how come no one can be trusted to hold on the power in your own government? If the law of entropy is applied, South Vietnamese government is a self-destructive force. A lesson of shame that will ever remain in human history.

Kim and Little Helmsman, how much venom do you have? How deep is your fool? Stay back where you are these little coward.


August 17, 2013 at 05:13

To say that Raingsy is the best choice for Cambodia is just false claim. It simply your opninion. Others might not share or agree with your claim. There is no way that Raingsy was elected if he is not even a candidate for this election. Do you have anything legally to support you claim?


City Hunter
August 16, 2013 at 20:29

It seems like you are so poor with your analysis. Life and reality are more complicated than what you think. You shouldn't always believe in what you see. Learn more about history and you will understand. This is only their way to make you feel grateful towards them, instead of hateful.

City Hunter
August 16, 2013 at 20:27

I totally agree with you Mr. Kim's Uncle.

City Hunter
August 16, 2013 at 20:20

Thank you for the inquiry Paul.

Well, it's not difficult too hide the Vietnamese troops. How many illegal or legal Vietnamese immigrants are there in Cambodia? They don't have to be dressed as soldiers. They are just dressed as civilians among the Vietnamese immigrants. Kampong Cham province is a territory for there basement. Should anything happened extra Vietnamese troops will immediately flood in Kampong Cham and an assault can be immediately carried out. Remember what happened in 1993 after Hun Sen lost the election? He threatened to declare a civil war against Prince Norodom Rannarith, taking provinces at the east as hostage like Kampong Cham, Prey Veng, Svay Reang; despite at that time UN + American troops were all over Cambodia. But the stupid thing is that the stupid King Sihanouk resorted to negotiating with Hun Sen, and allow for 2 priministers in the country, where this never had never happened in any country in the world before. So why do think Hun Sen is so strong and believe that no one can touch him? It is because he is backed by the Vietnamese troops.

Yes, Paul. The Chhouk Bundith case clearly shows you that there is no independent body in Cambodia, not even the courts, and justice will never be served for the Cambodians. It's in grave danger if CPP continues to be in power. Hmm….in fact, I neither like Vietnam nor China. China should actually be held responsible for the genocide in Cambodia.

Well, it doesn't help but now we are doing our best we can and we hope a new era will be built.


August 16, 2013 at 17:34

We come in peace.

Ku Te`o
August 16, 2013 at 17:17

We Vietnamese actually don't give a shy of grapping Cambodia land, because we are a fuss ourself – too many issues to do. But for Cambodian hatres toward us, the process of compromising Cam into our land is realizing and as the hatres grows stronger, the process will be faster.

You love Vietnamese? Great we will live in harmony.

You hate Vietnames? Excellent, we will be united.

August 16, 2013 at 17:11

If you are truly a Cambodian, then it explains a lot to me, a Vietnamese – about what caused the death of a great civilization – your mindset, yes, our mindset was and is the cause.

Question: is it because of Rainsy's campaign againsts Vietnam that you want him to be your leader?

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