Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Cambodia Spring (commentary by Ms. Theary C. Seng)

The Cambodia Spring
in the Editorial Page of The Phnom Penh Post
on Wednesday, 14 Aug. 2013

[Here's the unedited version submitted to The Phnom Penh Post]
The Cambodia Spring
Why This July 2013 Election is the Tipping Point
Ms. Theary C. Seng

[An edited version of this Commentary was published in The Phnom Penh Post, 14 August 2013]

Theary C. Seng at her Phnom Penh home, 2013
Cambodia is undergoing a phenomenon, the beginning of “Cambodia flourishing”, if you will.  

Even amidst the current high-tension of political brinkmanship, Cambodia has reached the tipping point that is slowly but surely ushering in the Cambodia Spring.  However, the season of spring of flourishing must first be preceded by the season of discontent, the period we are in now. 

Recently, I witnessed first-hand this season of flourishing when I rode in the back of the pick-up truck carrying Sam Rainsy from the airport to Democracy Square upon his return from exile on 19 July 2013, and again at Democracy Square the day he left for the United States for his daughter’s wedding of 6 August 2013.  On both occasions, crowds in the hundreds of thousands openly, fearless convulsed onto the truck and stage demanding change.  Their passion, palpably pulsating and electrifying the Cambodia air, acts to diminish the prior existing fear.  

This season of discontent will be here to stay for some time, and will likely snowball into a monsoonal downpour of discontents, until there is a complete change of leadership.  The people demand a surgical reformation in the formation of a government led by CNRP Sam Rainsy, and not band-aid changes the CPP will need to and has started to undergo in the inserting of a newer crop of parliamentarian sons.

Here are the factors and their admixture ushering in the Cambodia Spring. 

1.  The Voters who have no direct experience of the Khmer Rouge 

Three and one-half million of the country's 9.5 million registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 30.  Of these 3.5 million young registered voters, 1.5 million or fifteen percent are first time voters. 

What do these numbers tell us? 

One, these 3.5 million registered voters below age 30 are not directly traumatized by the Khmer Rouge.  Moreover, many of them were children during the turbulent years of the 1990s, with some only coming of age in the last election 5 years ago.  They, unlike their elders, have not accumulated the fear and trauma of having lived through the Khmer Rouge and having witnessed election violence and murders confronting the voters in living colors of prior elections.

I returned to Cambodia in September 1995, less than two years after the United Nations-organized elections.  I joined the campaign trails of the Khmer Nation Party in 1998, when traveling to each province took an average of a day through yawning gulfs of crater-sized potholes every few yards on the national roads and each village is its own remote, isolated universe.

In 2002 I traveled the provinces as an international consultant of the US-International Republican Institute to train political party agents on the first commune elections, and once again joined the campaign trails of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP, formerly the Khmer Nation Party, changed to keep the CPP from appropriating the name by splitting the party) for this commune elections as well as the national elections the following year in 2003.  The roads were semi-improved but each village was still its own remote, isolated universe.

Once again in 2007 and 2008, for the commune and national elections respectively, I joined SRP on the campaign trails.

In between these elections, I traveled the provinces for my work, first in 1997 to each provincial prison to assess the state of juveniles detained there.  And since, I traveled each province on numerous occasions in my capacity as the head of the NGO Center for Social Development known for its justice and reconciliation forums, and most recently as the founding president of CIVICUS Cambodia to conduct the Speak Truth To Power (or, in Khmer, Courage Without Borders) curriculum for teachers, monks and other educational and provincial leaders.

All to say, I have witnessed first-hand the conditions across Cambodia through these eighteen years and have paid acute attention (for personal and professional reasons) to the voices and yearnings of the people in trying to understand for myself and for my work these seemingly intractable problems in search of solutions. 

And one of my strong beliefs in light of what is happening now during this 2013 election season is this:  we are witnessing a new phenomenon – the blooming of a Cambodia Spring, with angst of discontents as the inevitable precedent to the flourishing which will inevitably follow.  The manifestation and timing of it could not have been perceived till it is actually happening, as it is now. 

BUT this phenomenon did not happen out of the blue, magically; it grew organically and was nurtured along the way. 

It is part and parcel of all the educational efforts and advocacy and challenging of the status quo and the demanding of each dollar raised to the wage of workers and hotel staff, of each improper land concession. 

Then we are given the tools of social media and Smart phones and Unicode and English, etc. to set it off, fueled by the energy of the youth coming of age.

2.  Social Media + Smart-phones + Khmer Unicode + Rising English Usage 

The previous elections did not have a public venue where Cambodians, particularly young people, could exchange information and be part of something larger than themselves. 

This public venue is closely connected to the growing comfort level and increasing number of Cambodians proficient in English, not only to be on Facebook, but also to have access to a broader array of information (which are mainly in English). 

Even if English is the still dominant language of social media, the comfort level and increase quality of the Khmer Unicode also facilitated the growing use of Social Media.   

As recent as five years ago (the last national elections), Cambodians were mired in the pictorial typing system symbolized by the Limon font.  Typing Khmer was basically inhibited to drawing a letter in order to compose each word.  For anyone to access a Khmer language document on the internet meant that that document had been uploaded as a JPG or a PDF.  

All to say, as recent as five years ago, Cambodians could not search the internet in the Khmer language nor write posts or comments on Facebook in the Khmer language, as the pictorial Limon typing system could not facilitate such endeavors.  

A few years ago, the posts and comments on Facebook were written in broken English by the Khmer Facebook users; now the majority of posts by Khmer users are in the Khmer language.

The ease of language capability in both Khmer and English is greatly inter-linked with Smart-phones which allow for instant, engaging sharing of images along with a narrative in the Khmer Unicode with an exponential multiplying impact.

We are right to worry about the vulgar, violent, crude or empty content and posts on social media, particularly on Facebook -- from soft to hard pornography, from foodstuff to graphic traffic deaths of mangled bodies and bloodied, cracked skulls -- that were initially sent en masse and continue to exist to a horrifying extent, despite social media’s attempts to curb such vulgarity, violence and lewdness.  

And the fear of information overload is a real concern.  

However, in a place like Cambodia during this time, social media, as everyone has acknowledged, has been a major factor in ushering the Cambodia Spring. 

3.  The Arab Spring and other Mass Protests around the World 

Freedom is an innate aspiration, but also we are all copycats, particular us Cambodians.  We witnessed the mass protests elsewhere around the world and they capture our own imagination.  It was only an issue of time; the July 2013 gave us the opportunity to usher in our own Cambodia Spring. 
4.  Father-figure Vacuum 

The massive outpouring of public grief during the passing of King Father Sihanouk Norodom took everyone by surprise, even if some of it was exaggerated high emotions.  It brought to consciousness of both Cambodians and the Cambodian watchers of how much King Sihanouk’s rhetoric and treatment of Cambodians over the years as his “children” have shaped our identity as exactly that, oftentimes to our peril in stunting our social and political development and maturity.

Hun Sen tried excruciatingly hard in filling that void by giving himself grandiose, lengthy titles and naming educational institutions after himself – but basically to no avail as reflected by the humiliating rejection by the people of him during the July 2013 elections.  

It is rumored that he regretted allowing the national TVK during the grieving week to play daily old Sihanouk movies, as these films further endeared the people to the King Father with all his public works, giving Cambodians images of a more idyllic era of charm, of genuine regal elegance, of wooded forests and exotic jungles, of a Phnom Penh that is exotic and aesthetically beautiful. And these idyllic images greatly contrasted with Hun Sen's shortcomings: his grasping of royal titles, his naming of schools after himself minus content and quality, the vast pervasive deforestation, the gaudiness of new buildings chaotically sprouting and overshadowing the colonial charm.

I’ve stated oftentimes that Cambodia is a land of orphans – literal and emotional ones.  We do have a high rate of individuals who do not have a mother, father or both.  But even ones who do have a parent, the parents are not parenting as they themselves are adult infants unconsciously grieving the loss of any parenting figure in their own lives.

Then, came Sam Rainsy back from four years of self-imposed exile.  Here is a father figure orphaned Cambodians could be proud of to have as their ideal father – intelligent, courageous, dignified, non-violent, nationalistic.  Sam Rainsy returned on the heels of the passing of the King Father who had left a father-figure vacuum.  He naturally, unconsciously filled this vacuum in the psychology of the needy Cambodians. 

5. Tourism and Urbanization of Garment Workers from the Provinces 

The exchange between Cambodians and tourists as well as between the urbanized garment workers with their provincial relatives over the years chipped away at the remote village-urban center divide of information.  The presence of tourists has raised the comfort level of speaking freely and the 600,000-strong garment workers have acted as the powerful links between the provinces and the urban centers. 

6.  Accumulation of Human Rights Abuses 

Cambodia is a sea of human rights abuses.  Everyone is impacted by at least one abuse or another.  The accumulation of these rights abuses finally found expression, assisted by the other mentioned factors.  

Moreover, the pervasiveness and prevalence of land concessions resulting in violent evictions touched directly most Cambodians, where 73 percent of arable land have been leased to foreign companies by the end of 2012.

On the one rights abuse of land issue alone, the impact was no longer one of hearsay, but each Cambodian knows personally or of a family or close friend who fell victim to an eviction. 

7.  The Knowledge stored in the Heart and Mind now Finds Expression 

The other side of the coin of the accumulation of rights abuses is the accumulation of rights knowledge learned and stored over the years in the hearts and minds of the Cambodian people.  The Cambodian people gave expression to this accumulated knowledge in this July 2013 elections. 

8.  The Admixture of the Above 

Each above-mentioned factor has its own importance, but is limited in pushing the point to tip.  The tipping point occurs when these factors come together.  We are now experiencing the Cambodia Spring (a season of discontents before flourishing) because of the admixture of the above factors.

Theary C. Seng
Founding President
CIVICUS: Center for Cambodian Civic Education
Phnom Penh, 13 August 2013


Anonymous said...

Khmers are the smartest lineage of people the world have ever seen. If Khmer people ever made the promise to support all Khmers wherever they are and no matter where we see them, then no one will be better than us. Khmers unity is needed here and beyond.

I would like to say a few words to the CPP people. In less than 5 years, you WILL BE A MINORITY. Would you like to join us now or would you like to beg later?

Anonymous said...

Dear Theary,
I would like to thanks for the hard work you had done for our country,
I hope someday I will meet you in person to express my appreciations.
Take a good care of your self.
from LA, CA, USA

Anonymous said...

Long Live VietNam and Hun Sen... Hunting Season start now so run while you can CNRP and all the useless khmer...

Soon we will make you a new province to VietNam.

Long Live VietNam and Hun Sen is greatest leaders of All time .. Khmer live today because of VietNam and Hun Sen.. not Dog King Sihanouk and Sihamoni....

That pointing finger say RUN while you can ... hunting season start now

Run king run
mother king run too
they are only good to be DOG

Anonymous said...

Long live Vietnam? Fc8k you, Yuon!
You call our King what?
Die a thousand deaths to you and your family, you rat.

Anonymous said...

Sam Rainsy Is a True Father-Figure...Courageous, Intelligent, and Non-violent. Good Role Model for All Of Us

Comrade Hun Sen Is Hell

Separate the two by double lines and lot of spaces because they completely don't mix

Anonymous said...

i was with rainsy for 5 years. he rainsy never like khmer event once. all he doe's is for his own selfishness interest only. this opportunist riansy very weak and being habitat of spoil, rainsy do everything " destructive or evil" to get what he used to cry for. this rainsy charactoristict is worst absolutely worst no principles, no disciplinary and no mentor to get job don on a very effective detail, now you can clearly see rainsy is a real madness man. now can't you ,? sir I can see frome the beginning rainsy is too much proud on his Franch deplomar, and reject on any advice this childish rainsy believed he out smart other easily on his manipulation skills. he was very useless proud., wasn't he? it is too dangerous to have such childish rainsy run a state full of less education people, and very cruel, too poor. some people robbed, kill other for food . so weakness and spoiled rainsy can not manage this lawless country's, now can't he?. right?.now it absolutely clear rainsy is a madness weakness man and surrounding himself with ex Khmerought cruel people and some losers khmer Republican, and for most rainsy lose to or under bad influenced by this naively people, wasn't it true. ? right?. mike

Anonymous said...

913, are you that stupid? What the f*ck are you talking about, you moron?

Anonymous said...

VC, Chinese and CPP traitor crooks have held our monarchy Kingta as their hostage ever since the time of decolonising the French in 1950s. Please wake up everyone, if cambodia wants to have peace, they have to stand up against this Indochinese federation. Both Viets and Chinese are trying to swallow us up, why? because they know that we are the 'pro US' and therefore we are at risk to their nation in the near future, why? so that the US could use our country as a station to attack them (being paranoided). E,g they made Thai to be part of the commonwealth and if any nation part of them, they will be protected, that is why Thai is being protected by the England and therefore, the Viets and the Chnese had to back off from touching them at all.

Why didn't our kingta do the same? well, he had been lied, decieved and manipulated by these two nation e.g if you are to be part of the US. you will be finished, in this case, damn if you do and damn if you don't. So, kingta had no choice but to believe in them and their ideology, that is to help to kill his own people, instead. In the end kingta got stabbed not once or twice but three times, e.g during decolonising thte french, 2) Pol Pot and 3) during Funcipic e,g Ranarith as a second PM only to be brought down by them and plus, allowing to use him to demised UN out of the country or else his dynasty will be finished.

Therefore, kingta and dynasty have always been under their controlled ever since he became king of srok khmer. Unfortunately, having king is like having cancer in our body. The word monarchy must be eliminated for the benefit of our nation. The truth is, our real king died long time ago, since the time of the Chrisna religous belief, after that, everything turn up side down because of its curses e,g because of the fake king had killed the real king for its thrown;

Now history repeats itself eg Hun Sen tried to kill this kingta and dynasty so that he too can be king, loll. So yes, Cambodia is a land of curse until Hun and dynasty is gone, the end.

Anonymous said...

Prime Minister COUP Hun Sen Should Go For Routine Medical Check Up in HaNoise

28 Years With No Rest Is Bad For Your Health

Don't Blame The People for Sudden Heart Attack

Anonymous said...

Nope, nobody can understand that kind of English @9:13 there. It's just a waste of space. Can KI-Media Team members/Admin/Poster's owner delete all those comments please? We have seen too many of those spams all over KI-Media comments sections. Thank you for your attention to this matter, KI-Media.

Anonymous said...

Aug 13, 2013 7:13pm


Anonymous said...

Seriously, what the f*k are these CPP talking about? I cannot understand their pathetic English.

Anonymous said...


Keep at it, please. The Post is the feeding ground for the CPP's amateurs and pros alike. Thanks a million for keeping on trying. We will prevail.

Anonymous said...

9:34 AM, can you upload that clip to youtube? Cannot post the clip from a personal facebook. Thx.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr Sam Rainsy, kim Sokha, Musochea, Mr Chhay, Teary Seng and the rest of the Cambodians people who are defending our nation. Lutus spring is rising. Let take our country back for the Khmer people. Be careful and be safe.

Anonymous said...

Hey mike, stop making up the story. It is nonsense.

Anonymous said...

To 8:50 Am,
Go fuck Bun Ranny Hun Sen if you are bored. Don't hi jack KI.

Anonymous said...

9:32 yes delete anyone who dares to think different from CNRP supporters because this is democracy works huh? Funny how you guys keep talking about democracy and freedom of speech when you can't even take criticism and different point of view. Ms. Seng are you not suppose to help the whole country and every Khmer? It seems helping CNRP and kissing Mr. Rainsy's behind is only thing on your agenda?

Anonymous said...

The cpp supporters or Khmer wannabe are trying hard by leaving stupid comments. All of you leaving comments on a borrowed time. You father Hun Sen will be out soon.

Once Khmer people set their mind on something it's hard to distract them. From what i know Vietnam is shaking because of what happening in Cambodia.

We will see who has the last laugh.

Anonymous said...

Theary seng trying to seek a men who want to fuck her gratos!!!Pakpouk theary seng,Sam Raisy=Badphsa Mafia.◘◘◘◘◘◘◘◘◘◘◘◘◘◘◘Koukbal vea ornnass!!

Anonymous said...

The UN and the West don't really care about Cambodia. if they have their way, they would prefer to shut the Cambodian people up and throw all the human rights abuses committed by Hun Sen in the trash bin. That way, for them at least, they have one less thing to work on. They don't really care about the long term consequences if Hun Sen to continue to cheat, win elections, and, eventually, gain support from them. As Hun Sen realizes that Khmer people really after his throat, he and his cronies will do even worst thing to Cambodia and the Cambodian people, as CPP consolidate their power even more, tighten the control of the society, begin purging the opposition supporters, use their dominance to accumulate more wealth, and trash Cambodia’s wealth, resources, and environment to the point of no return. The result, for the Cambodian society, will be chaotic, and massive, unrivaled devastation. The HunSen regime will clam down on Khmer activists, intellectuals, oppositions as never before. The purging will be similar to the style of the Khmer Rouge, but more from the assassin’s bullet, execution style. The UN and the West could potentially do more harm to Cambodia in the name of stability in the long term than help (That is precisely what has been happening in Cambodia. More and more people are calling on the donors to demand real change from Hun Sen). It’s the same pattern that has been repeating in the world as seen in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Cambodia, etc., where the UN and the West prop up dictators like Saddam Husain, Asad, Mubarack, Hun Sen, etc. to suppress, kill, and destroy the people and countries as the UN and West tolerate those dictators. But then again, what do the UN and the West care.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:13 AM : Is very stupid man,he does everything for yuon an Hun Sen's Slave...! I think that he was born in Hanoi and he does everything for destroy khmer....! Be carefull for all the man like this!he is very bad man...!

Anonymous said...


Always enjoy reading your writing and seeing your cute picture,

Hopefully one day we meet, I like to buy you a cup of coffee,

Please continue your writing, America was found because of Thomas Pain who wrote many excerpts to encourage the American people to rise up against the mighty powerful England, and you are our Thomas Pain of modern Cambodia.

Thank you very much for every thing,


Anonymous said...

I see Hun Sen put more and more CPP trolls to disrupt and curse anybody criticizing Hun Sen.

1:47 PM ah knhom ka chas youn. ah batpsa knhom ka chas ayong youn douch ah chkay aign ban ches che prer pheasa cheng dack Khmer khnea aign

Anonymous said...

VC, Chinese and CPP traitor crooks are behind our khmer downfall and it is time for Hun Sen to learn to get out of it too, because he is a khmer nationationalist. please don't let outsiders to brainwash you and your nation like they did to all of our predecessors and say enough is enough. What they did to you Hun Sen is called 'classical conditioning', like do what I say and your will be saved, but for how long? after everything is gone, they will eliminate you and your dynasty just like that too.

You are no different from our predecessors, they lied, cheated and manipulated, so that they can have it all. Hun Sen, please try to conform with our CNRP because I don't want them (outsiders) to win no more. You have to learn to be smarter by now. But if you are one of them and working for their benefit, isn't wrong to live to rob from the disadvantage nation? and if they are to do the same to you and your nation, wouldn't you be hurt too? please for life is too short, might as well do good really, thank you.

Anonymous said...

9:13 AM put that on your resume and post on cpp for a job.

Anonymous said...

that is in your dream land, but in physical world, it's the other way around. and i'm ready for name calling.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The exasperating non stop calls (and no actions taken) from SAM RAINSY (anyway he is safe in the USA) and KEM SOKHA for all Khmer support are the sign of their lack of leadership, their weakness, their fear, their hesitance, while Khmer people are more brave, more bold, resolute to defend their country, their right.

Don't wait them anymore! It's time to take action before being hunted and Killed like the late SAN SOEUNG

Anonymous said...

Bitch stop posting your picture

Anonymous said...

713PM...your barbaric tribe in prey long reported missing a monkey...

Anonymous said...

She look like..she can give a good head..I can fuck that mouth all day..

Anonymous said...

my prediction kem sokha will got uper hands and enjoy his wealth + new good position in new government. if he is smart and push rainsy away. bcos rainsy is too dump and too flaw. isn't he ?. or kem sokha will be perish if he doesn't have guts to restore peace for his future and for khmer future. to any one who invested with rainsy will be a big losers for ever. rainsy himself have nature of big loset from his first born. haven't you rainsy, ?. stay away frome rainsy .guy if you do not want to be a bad tools or a trouble maker. ?. remember no mater generous you are you will not be able to bear milions of problems rainsy created anyways so sokha please go without it. ok. and let rainsy hank himself. and remember there is no good morals and no mercy in relates to politic tight ? sokha kick the ash out soonner the beter. and ransy surrounding himself with thousands of naive parasites. go with or without it. ok take the bull by the horns sokha. and move on. move.,,right?. mike

Anonymous said...

I like your beauty, your IQ, and your nationalism. I wish we have more Theary Seng not for me but for our country survival. Good of You and Thank YOu.

Common Sense said...

In your dream 8:19pm, if you are horny use your hand. Bet you fantasize about this lady. All you can do is dreaming, looser!

Common Sense said...

9:13 is paid commenter for CPP or at least he think he is, hopefully one day he can collect it. Go on and wasted your time for all we care, looser!

Anonymous said...

មីចោរមានពុតDemocrat ទំពាំងស្នងឫស្សី យួន,
វាកំពុងតែ នាំបងប្អូនខ្មែរអ្នកស្នេហាជាតិ
អោយដើរតាមគន្លងអាចម៍ អាយួនកុម្មុយនីស្ត




Anonymous said...

Ms Seng keep up the good work. Khmer needs people like you to fight for her right. All Khmer thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Mimoukgi Mouyniss Sangkiss chisseng Sangkom,She was betray the nation khmers and da no heven a life stable so how can she represent as party politically and done a good lesson for us???Only when she on the bed with pross arkang so bicth!!Mnmen Chea komro dor lror the Mok Ning Mart Vea Cheakomro Beamkdor THOM..THOM!!Min men mok tveu aoy khmers kror aoy tov cheamean the!!◘◘◘◘

Anonymous said...

4:35 AM,

Are you taking the wrong pills again?

Anonymous said...

4:35 AM Ber dung tar kloun kdor toch, kom sov kron ber pek

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