HIMMAT is starting off as a blog by Rajmohan Gandhi who has written on the Indian independence movement and its leaders, South Asian history, India-Pakistan relations, human rights and conflict resolution. His latest book is Modern South India: A History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New Delhi: Aleph, forthcoming).

Cambodian polls & ASEAN’s future

The five major powers of the UN Security Council brokered, at the end of Cold War era, the Paris Peace Agreements on Cambodia of October 23, 1991. The whole process of the UN intervention in Cambodia should have led to the democratization of Cambodia and the promotion of Human Rights incorporated in the 1993 Constitution of Cambodia.

But the July 29, 2018 legislative elections shattered all hopes for democratization or for returning power to the people and respecting their human rights. Instead the Cambodian People’s Party (CCP) gained the totality of 125 seats at the National Assembly, without any credible opposition party challenging the whole process of the elections. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the major opposition party, was banned from performing any political activities and its president jailed under the fallacious accusations of fomenting a ‘Colour Revolution’.

Despite warnings from Europe, the USA, Australia and Japan that they would not recognize the outcome of the elections, the CCP proceeded with the elections, with the sole if strong support of the People’s Republic of China, which used to exclusively support the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in the second part of the 1975s. 

The consequences of this situation are:

1.     Isolation of Cambodia, leading to a situation of weakness. As a small country, Cambodia should entertain good relations with all countries around and beyond, as did King Sihanouk under the advice of the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in the 1950s and 1960s.

2.     Dependency on one country’s assistance, at the risk of losing our independence, which King Sihanouk had preserved for over 15 years, during the Cold War period, by balancing East and West.

3.     One party system with an absolute majority in the Parliament means that the 1993 democratic Constitution can be changed anytime with more than 2/3 majority required to amend the Constitution. The Cambodian people are split between those who benefit from privileges and corruption openly allowed by the ruling party and those who have been fighting for their rights, political rights and freedom of speech.

4.     Split within the 10-member ASEAN countries: with the 6 original ASEAN members (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam) traditionally aligned with the USA; and the new members rather aligned with China, especially now Cambodia and Laos, even if Vietnam may be shifting towards the USA, possibly like Myanmar, with historical suspicions playing their part. As long as ASEAN remains without institutions that can safeguard and secure the independence of the whole region and provide a common defense, a member country may feel insecure and inclined to approach a major power like the USA or China.

Under the pretext of political and social stability and peace, Prime Minister Hun Sen forcefully maintained his power with over 100,000 military and police troops and over 1,000 generals that are mostly meant to squash any popular peaceful demonstrations, to muzzle any viable opposition that challenges his power, in this case the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and to establish a one-party system like the Khmer Rouge regime before, except this time with only one leader seemingly legitimized by the July 2018 elections.

When Cambodia held ASEAN’s rotating presidency of Cambodia some years ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government singled out with its support for China on the question of the Spratly and other islands in the South China Sea, jeopardizing the unity of ASEAN and the traditional consensus on these Islands. Such clear-cut siding with China may stray ASEAN away from its neutral and independent stand and jeopardize its future role as a viable independent grouping that steers clear of superpower rivalries. 

In this context, what would be the role of India?

India and the US, again

Defending a minority