At the Bonna Business Center, a tiny Internet cafe near the opulent mansion of Cambodia’s long-
ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen, coffee is served with a big lump of dissatisfaction.
“They talk about seven percent economic growth,” said Ou Rithy, 27, who hosts weekly political discussions at the cafe with other young Cambodians. “But I’m still a poor man.”
He blames Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which won a recent general election widely criticized as rigged, but lost the nation’s heart and soul — its restive, tech-savvy and increasingly outspoken youth.
About 70 percent of Cambodia’s 14 million people are under 30, a demographic whose growing political clout is challenging the country’s aging and corrupt leadership, while breathing life into a once-moribund opposition who have called for the mass protests that began yesterday.
Hun Sen cheated his way to victory in the July 28 election and it has vowed to protest until an independent committee is formed to investigate alleged voting irregularities, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) said.
Hun Sen has denied the allegations.
According to initial results, the CPP won the election with a greatly reduced majority, revealing widespread unhappiness with Hun Sen’s iron-fisted rule despite rapid economic growth.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy urged supporters to “pray for peace” at yesterday’s protest, but many fear it could lead to months of political deadlock or even violence. In recent days, thousands of riot police armed with batons and shields have rehearsed crowd control methods in Phnom Penh’s parks.
It is Hun Sen’s biggest crisis in two decades, threatening to destabilize the tiny Southeast Asian nation with strong economic and political ties to China.
Cambodia owes its youthful demographic to its tragic past. Whole generations were wiped out from 1975 to 1979, under the “Killing Fields” regime of the Khmer Rouge, when more than 1 million people were killed or died of disease.
Hun Sen has long hailed himself and the CPP for rescuing the country from the ensuing years of chaos and poverty. However, such appeals increasingly fall flat with young people born long after the Khmer Rouge’s terror ended.
“Young people want social justice, they want jobs, and they want a good education system,” said Ou Rithy, a political science graduate who has watched many peers desert his home province of Pursat to seek work in neighboring Thailand.
Soaring use of smart phones and the Internet have allowed young Cambodians to sidestep the government’s strict control of television, radio and newspapers.
In 2008, when Hun Sen easily won the previous election, only about 70,000 people had access to the Internet, according to government statistics. By last year, that number had soared to 2.7 million, helped by a similarly exponential rise in mobile phones. There are now more cellphones used in Cambodia — 19 million — than there are Cambodians.
Also accelerating communication since the last election is the Khmer-language version of unicode, a computing encoding standard used for different languages and scripts. This allowed Cambodian Internet users to easily write and share information in their own language.
“Even those who don’t speak English can still create Facebook accounts in Khmer,” said But Buntenh, 34, a Buddhist monk and blogger at the Bonna Business Center.
State media routinely ignore opposition rallies. This news blackout encouraged many Cambodians to seek information from social media, usually with just a click on their phones.
Despite its large campaign
budget, the CPP underestimated the frustrations of ordinary Cambodians and the opposition’s growing popularity, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) Ou Virak said.
“It wasn’t until shortly before election day that we started to see the impressive level of youth involvement,” he said. “Even then people weren’t sure to what extent this would impact the actual results.”
More than a third of the country’s 9.6 million eligible voters are under 30, although many work abroad and do not cast ballots, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia said.
The CPP has limited youth appeal. Hun Sen is 61 and has vowed to rule until he is 74. Its youth wing is widely regarded as a political vehicle for Hun Sen’s youngest son, Hun Many, 30.
The opposition CNRP has a more youthful image, with Koul Kanha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, calling it the
Formed last year after the merger of two parties, the CNRP owed part of its resurgence to social media. Photos and video of alleged election fraud also went viral thanks to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
The government did not attempt to shut down the social network, despite many users posting critical — and sometimes racist and vulgar — remarks about CPP figures.
Hun Sen disavowed a Facebook page bearing his name after Sam Rainsy repeatedly taunted him for having fewer “likes.”
The rise of a youthful opposition to Hun Sen could signal a “Cambodian Spring” similar to the popular but often ill-fated movements against authoritarian rulers in the Arab world, some analysts say.
Ou Rithy disagrees.
“Young people don’t want a revolution, they want evolution — a gradual change based on non-violence,” he said.
Sam Rainsy has accused the CPP of colluding with the National Election Committee to steal 2.3 million votes from his party. He disputes results showing the CPP won 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55.
Hun Sen has vowed to form a government despite the opposition’s campaign.
Offering Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccines to the public in Singapore for the first time since Friday, several private clinics reported overwhelming demand for the Chinese-made shot, despite already available rival vaccines having far higher efficacy. Singapore has vaccinated almost half its 5.7 million population with at least one dose of the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Both have shown efficacy rates of well over 90 percent against symptomatic disease in clinical trials, compared with Sinovac’s 51 percent. Earlier this week, officials in Indonesia said that more than 350 medical workers have caught COVID-19, despite being vaccinated with Sinovac and dozens have been
‘WITHIN SAFE LIMITS’: Hong Kong is to ask authorities in Guangdong for updates regarding the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant and inform the public of developments The Hong Kong government is closely watching a nearby Chinese nuclear power plant following a news report that it might be leaking, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) said yesterday. The plant’s operators have released few details, but nuclear experts have said that based on their brief public statement, the facility might be suffering a leak of gas from fuel rods inside a reactor. Government data showed that radiation levels in Hong Kong were normal on Monday night, Lam said. Data from the Hong Kong Observatory showed radiation levels were still normal yesterday. A French company that helps manage the Taishan Nuclear
When COVID-19 arrived in India, few places looked as vulnerable as Mumbai. However, a year on, South Asia’s most crowded city has surprised many by tackling a vicious second wave of the virus with considerable success. Gaurav Awasthi even traveled hundreds of kilometers from his home on the outskirts of Delhi to get his ailing wife a hospital bed there, paying an ambulance more than US$1,000 to drive 24 hours straight. “I cannot ever repay my debt to this city,” the 29-year-old said, recounting an ordeal that saw him spend five days fruitlessly searching for a bed across several cities, including Delhi.
Until recently, the location of executed Japanese prime minister Hideki Tojo’s remains was one of World War II’s biggest mysteries in the nation he once led. Now, a Japanese university professor has revealed declassified US military documents that appear to hold the answer. The documents show the cremated ashes of Tojo, one of the masterminds of the Pearl Harbor attack, were scattered from a US Army aircraft over the Pacific Ocean about 50km east of Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city. It was a tension-filled, highly secretive mission, with US officials taking extreme steps to keep Tojo’s remains, and those of six others executed