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COMMENTARY CAMBODIA - Honorable Exit Strategy for Hun Sen

CAMBODIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES & MURDERS ranks # 1 on our TOP 10 Phnom Penh stories - Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen proved that politics and football do mix - Daffy123 (talk) photo



Theary C. Seng - US-trained Lawyer, Founding President of CIVICUS Cambodia



Any coalition government, whatever form it takes, must have the confidence of the people because it has trustworthy checks-and-balances in place to realize the demand for change




Thursday, September 19, 2013

On 22 July 2013, I had written that it is in “Hun Sen’s long-term personal interest of survival for himself and his future generations” to step down, that it is the “most face-saving option, and potentially most honorable in salvaging their goods and legacy”.

My belief has been deeply strengthened by the ensuing two months of the crescendo-ing defiance of the Cambodian people. This is home-grown democracy that will not recede.

The people’s fearless defiance cut across the country, through the urban centers to the provincial outposts, and this in the face of threats and intimidation of weeks-long military build-up, reported and known. The threat finally culminated in the clashes along Phnom Penh’s touristy riverside during the first of 3-day mass protests and the execution of a young man and other injuries, under the cover of darkness, away from the protest site, near the headquarters of the Cambodian National Rescue Party.

The people were undeterred. To the contrary, the violence enraged further the aggrieved voters who passionately believe they have been robbed of their votes and fortified their resolve for leadership change. Remember the people voted for CNRP Sam Rainsy as well as against Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party, loudly and unquestionably.

It is untenable for Hun Sen to continue to be prime minister. The people will not allow CNRP to negotiate otherwise. The question then becomes: what are the alternatives that provide adequate modicum of saving face for Hun Sen to step down?

The natural inclination is for Hun Sen to continue with the defensive reaction. After all, he has been accustomed to 28 years of unrestraint dictatorial power. But he and the CPP must ask themselves, does it serve their interests?

I am banking on an enlightened moment of wisdom for Hun Sen: he acts proactively and steps down “voluntarily”. Just think of the consequences which we know would naturally flow: in one deft, difficult, surprise move, Hun Sen instantly transforms himself into a statesman, an icon. In the annals of world history. The front page headlines of every newspaper in the world would herald the transformation: Former Khmer Rouge, Cambodia Strongman Steps Down as Statesman.

All notable great leaders and statesmen act with an element of surprise when greatly tested.

This is Hun Sen’s test. This is Hun Sen’s moment:

Leave us Cambodians and the world awestruck, seeing him anew as a courageous Statesman—moving himself from the ignominious Club of Dictators (of the likes of Mugabe, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi) to the rarefied Club of Statesmen (of the likes of George Washington, Gandhi, South African F. W. De Klerk) who voluntarily stepped away from power in order to facilitate a peaceful transition of government.

Or, keep his current legacy of violent, life-long dictator who sold his country and his people to foreign interests, and confront the deepening hatred and unending protests of the people.

It is Hun Sen’s last and best grandstanding moment. The window of opportunity for him to act is only within this period, when he still can spin and proactively shape the event.

Obviously, I am not a fan of Hun Sen, but I do not believe anyone is pure evil or pure good. We are all a combination of both, different only in degree, full of contradictions. I really do pray Hun Sen will act with wisdom. I really believe he has the potential to do so and awe us. And secure himself a legacy of statesmanship. And in one brilliant instant, clean his image and those of his younger generations from one of violence and blood to honor and statesmanship.

And we the Cambodian people, under the wise leadership of CNRP Sam Rainsy and a moderate CPP Sar Kheng, for example—where being a CPP or CNRP matters less and less—can shock the world and transform the Cambodian killing fields into a healing, living fields.

The current situation cannot be likened to any other period in Cambodian history: Sam Rainsy is not Prince Ranariddh; it is not to Kem Sokha’s interest to break the CNRP union; Hun Sen and the CPP have been chastened; the people, comprising of a youth bulge, fearless and riding the wave of the social media age, are more than just “subjects” and “survivors”; they are becoming “citizens”—knowing as well as exercising their rights with responsibility.

The outcome of the political negotiation must reflect truly this changing landscape. The people, under the strong leadership of Sam Rainsy, will no longer stand for empty promises of the same “politics as before”. Any coalition government, whatever form it takes, must have the confidence of the people because it has trustworthy checks-and-balances in place to realize the demand for change. Change/reform not only in the National Assembly. But change/reform across the board—yes, including the government—in all ministries, all institutions, all agencies, at all levels of society.

Hun Sen can proactively shape this process truly and substantively. Let me emphasize “truly” and “substantively”. The people will not be fooled and this time will not stand for political chicanery.

The degree of Hun Sen’s transformation (stepping down) will be directly correlated to the degree of healing and reconciliation. I believe in the enlightenment of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha to embrace reconciliation over retaliation. I believe they can lead the people to forgo revenge. Sam Rainsy in particular has shown that he can in his reconciliation with the late King Sihanouk, believed to have brutally killed his father Sam Sary.

I believe in Sar Kheng to be the acceptable public face of the CPP to replace Hun Sen. As Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, so too, I have a dream. Far from wishful thinking, I dream and I believe. I believe in Hun Sen.

To soar and not miss his moment. I believe in Sam Rainsy. I believe in the Cambodian people. Spring flourishing is here! Let us embrace it together!

Theary C. SENG, Founding President CIVICUS: Center for Cambodian Civic Education


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