Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen received two open letters asking for help this week.
The first was posted on his Facebook page and came from a group of medical students who have struggled to pass their exams. After failing clinical exams required to complete their medical degrees, the students want the Cambodian leader to simply waive their results.
Cambodia’s medical sector has faced enormous challenges in regards to standards and far from qualified practitioners. In late 2014, more than 200 people from the village of Roka contracted HIV after being injected with dirty needles from an unqualified doctor. Nor are local standards welcomed across borders within the ASEAN Economic Community, although Hun Sen has been praised for initiating reforms within the education sector and genuine attempts to stamp out rampant cheating and rorts.
But old habits die hard, and the prime minister does have a well-earned reputation for reacting to public requests made on Facebook.
Students have already won a substantial cut in the price of their final exams, down to $25 from $125, by appealing directly to Hun Sen on social media, which must have given the current batch of strugglers a few ideas.
“We are always supporting the smart and good leadership of Samdech that brings development to Cambodia,” a student named Bun Samdath wrote referring to Hun Sen’s official title.
“We strongly hope that Samdech will intervene in the exam results, and we wish Samdech and his family all the best.”
At about the same time, a second letter asking for Hun Sen’s intervention arrived from London-based corruption watchdog Global Witness regarding the political commentator Kem Ley, who was gunned down on a Sunday morning during a coffee-break in Phnom Penh.
“Kem Ley’s murder is the most recent in a long line of violence against members of the opposition, activists and journalists, and is a damning indictment of the democratic process and rule of law in Cambodia,” Patrick Alley, co-founder and Director of Global Witness, said.
“The early stages of the investigation into Kem Ley’s killing have done nothing to allay fears that, like the others before it, this investigation will fail to identify or prosecute those who ordered the crime,” he said while calling for an independent investigation into the killing.
Oueth Ang, a former soldier, has been charged with shooting Kem Ley execution style with a Glock, a high-precision hand gun valued at $2,500. He initially told the police his name was Chuob Samlab, which translates from Khmer as “Meet Death.”
Reports that a debt was the motive for the killing have been dismissed by the killer’s shocked wife and friends, who live in the northwest town of Siem Reap.
However, Kem Ley’s supporters have noted he was killed shortly after speaking in support of a Global Witness report which detailed the fantastic wealth enjoyed by Hun Sen’s family.
In his letter, Alley also noted Kem Ley’s friends and colleagues had been threatened and intimidated. This includes Chum Hour and Chum Hout, who fled to Thailand in fear for their lives shortly after the killing.
“The hundreds of thousands of Cambodian citizens who took to the streets for his funeral procession, together with the widespread international condemnation of the killing, should leave you in no doubt that anything short of an independent investigation will lack any credibility,” the letter to Hun Sen argued.
Hun Sen is yet to respond to the failing medical students or Global Witness but he did respond to the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) – through the courts.
The prime minister says he was defamed by CNRP President Sam Rainsy in a note posted on Facebook that links Cambodian authorities to the July 10 killing of Kem Ley, with Hun Sen’s lawyer saying the provocative comments “could provoke social chaos.”
The need to preserve social stability is always an interesting legal argument and one Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party would no doubt take seriously when dealing with issues wide and varied. That includes government critics who are gunned down in broad daylight or failed students asking for a pass so they can practice medicine.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt