[ 통신원 ] Can Hun Sen deliver the promise of reform to win back Cambodia?


George Styllis 조지 스타일리스 | Journalist in Phnom Penh 프놈펜 거주 언론인

2016년 5월 12일 10:10 오후



2년 전 훈센 총리와 집권여당 CPP는 캄보디아 근래 역사상 가장 치열했던 선거에서 부정투표 의혹과 투표 조작 시비를 딛고 승리하였다. 수도 프놈펜의 분위기는 불과 1주일 만에 선거에서 이길 수 있다는 환희에서 공포와 분노로 뒤바뀌었다. 훈센 정권이 이에 항의하는 군중을 무력으로 진압했고 또한 야당인 CNRP(캄보디아 구국당)가 의회의 등원을 거부하면서 비롯된 일이다... 젊은이들이 정치관련 콘텐츠를 SNS를 통해

Intro

Two years ago Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party(CPP) won the most hotly contested election in the country’s recent history on the back of alleged voting irregularities and rigging.  

The mood in the capital went from jubilation in the weeks leading up to the election to fear and anger after as the government violently cracked down on mass protests and as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party refused to take its seats in the National Assembly. The show of support for the opposition especially among young people using social media to share political content, and the party’s gains in parliament, dealt a shattering blow to Cambodia’s leaders.

It revealed a young, tech-savvy electorate born after the years of genocide and civil war refusing to tolerate a corrupt leadership buoyed by patronage and cronyism that has left thousands of people evicted from their land and the country’s wealth siphoned off into the pockets of the elite.

Cambodia’s economic growth numbers have been high and bandied around with enthusiasm by experts, but beneath the rosy exterior the country is still hampered by a lack of public spending and the industries that have propped up the country are still in their simple states and showing cracks.  Looking ahead at the next election in 2018, the Prime Minister has touted reform, knowing that if he wants to compete with the popular opposition party he will have to at least convince voters the wheels of change are in motion - or find other ways of winning.

들어가며

2년 전 훈센 총리와 집권여당 CPP는 캄보디아 근래 역사상 가장 치열했던 선거에서 부정투표 의혹과 투표 조작 시비를 딛고 승리하였다. 수도 프놈펜의 분위기는 불과 1주일 만에 선거에서 이길 수 있다는 환희에서 공포와 분노로 뒤바뀌었다. 훈센 정권이 이에 항의하는 군중을 무력으로 진압했고 또한 야당인 CNRP(캄보디아 구국당)가 의회의 등원을 거부하면서 비롯된 일이다. 

젊은이들이 정치관련 콘텐츠를 SNS를 통해 공유하면서 야당을 지지하고, 의회에서 야당이 약진한 것은 캄보디아의 리더들에게는 엄청난 타격이었다. 대학살 이후에 출생한 젊고 기술에 정통한 유권자들은 연고주의와 정치권의 비호에 의해 부패한 리더십을 거부하고 있다. 캄보디아의 부패는 수만 명의 민중들을 그들의 땅에서 쫓아냈고 국가의 부를 일부 엘리트들의 주머니 속으로 착복하는 고약한 시스템이었다. 

캄보디아의 경제성장 수치는 꽤 높았고 전문가들의 높은 관심을 이끌어 내기도 했다. 하지만 이 같은 장밋빛 수치 이면에는 여전히 공공부문에 대한 지출 부족에 시달리고 있었고 경제를 키운 핵심 산업들은 여전히 일부 지역에 한정되어 있었고 약점을 노출하고 있었다. 그동안, 정치권과 경제계의 긴밀한 파트너쉽은 일부 핵심권력층의 배만 불릴 뿐이었다. 

2018년에 있을 선거를 앞두고 훈센 총리는 개혁을 계속 설파해왔는데, 이는 만일 그가 인기가 높은 야당과 경쟁할 것을 원한다면 그는 아마도 유권자들이 변화의 축이 움직이고 있음을 확신시킬 것임을 알았기 때문이다.


Can Hun Sen deliver the promise
of reform to win back Cambodia?

It was two years ago when Cambodia’s emphatic prime minister, Hun Sen, once again defied any belief he would be outvoted from his long-held position to emerge from the July, 2013, national election with almost 30 years in power under his belt. A couple of months later, in a six-hour long speech that surpassed previous records of verbosity, the loquacious strongman spoke to the electorate.

“We have many mirrors to use if we want to use them and we learn to accept the reality, including a platform for public consultation with the people that must be done regularly to listen to people’s opinion,” The Cambodia Daily newspaper quoted Hun Sen as saying.

“Scrub your body while taking a bath as if your body is plagued by a dirty thing.”  

The loquacious strongman
말 많은 독재자

These were not proud words of victory from a man leading the country once again; it was a desperate address promising a top-to-bottom spring clean of the cobwebs of corruption that have for so long plagued Cambodia and distanced the autocrat from new generations refusing to tolerate his vice-like grip on the country.

The mood had turned sour for thousands of people who in the preceding months expected the popular opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to have secured a win at what was the fifth election to be held since the United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia organized the landmark 1993 elections after years of civil war, and genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970’s.

Of course when it came to the campaigning the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) showed its confidence and deep pockets as it rallied with dancers, thousands of supporters and a fleet of luxury cars. The CPP had 90 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, which it won in 2008, with seven out of 12 seats in the capital, Phnom Penh.

In typical fashion, the party touted prosperity if it won and threatened great danger that would sink the country back into war and chaos if it lost.

The two campaigns unfolded in a true David and Goliath show of strength as the opposition party made do with amateur rock bands and trucks mounted with speakers to entertain their 8,000-odd supporters. The CPP’s muscle and the absence of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had been living in France since sentenced in absentia in 2010 on charges he said were politically motivated, gave little indication the opposition could take on the CPP.

David and Goliath
다윗과 골리앗

But in the events that followed the opening campaign cynicism surrounding the opposition’s ability to unseat the CPP was swept aside as hordes of young people, mobilized by social media, took to the streets daily holding the opposition flag - a rising sun on blue background - with painted faces.

In countless interviews and conversations at the time with the public and garment workers, of which there are about 700,000 in the country, the sentiment appeared the same and the hand gestures always formed the number seven - the opposition’s ballot number.

A big part of the election battle was also being waged online as the CNRP rode the wave of the smartphone and Internet boom and witnessed politics and freedom of expression become digitised in a way not seen before.

Smartphones - both genuine and imitation models - have become an essential commodity in Cambodia. Affordable handsets and competitive Internet tariffs have enabled many Cambodians to get online and join networks such as Facebook. Internet penetration stands at around 5.8 million, compared to 2.7 million in 2012, while the number of mobile phone subscribers reached 21.92 million in the first half of 2015, up from about 20.3 million in the prior corresponding period, according to government data.

In the lead up to the election, social media became alive with hope and optimism that the opposition could win, as messages, photos and videos were shared. It was a chance for people to access independent, politically-sensitive information that would have never come to light in the many state-controlled media channels.


Smartphone and SNS effect
스마트폰과 SNS 효과

The party’s image was becoming young and fashionable as pretty women soon became the marketing tool for the party, having their photos posted on the CNRP-affiliated Facebook page. 

“It is known that the young National Rescue girls are beautiful and gentle when you meet them,” The Cambodia Daily reported, citing a caption posted along with a photo of young women dressed in CNRP clothing. The image had hundreds of ‘likes’ and had been shared more than 100 times on Facebook. The tactic proved effective, luring hundreds of young men to the party as volunteers.

“Young generations support the CNRP because they want to see a change in leadership and want their country to be more developed,” said Thy Sovantha, an opposition activist whose ‘hot news’ website became an Internet sensation during the election when she was 18 years old.

It soon became felt that the opposition securing a win was in sight, but for many that dream was crushed when on Sunday September 8  it was revealed the ruling party had won 68 parliamentary seats, and the CNRP, 55.

The opposition party - a merger between the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party in 2012 - had made significant gains from 2008 when it was two separate parties and had won 26 and 3 seats, respectively.

Nevertheless the results were rejected by Rainsy and his vice president Kem Sokha, as they confirmed what the party had been ranting about for weeks, which was that the election was rigged and riddled with voting irregularities that had robbed them of a win.

Researchers for Cambodian rights group Licadho found more than 260,000 instances of duplicate names on voter rolls.

 Similarly, a report by a group of human rights NGOs found the CPP saw huge success at the polls in areas where over-registration and the use of temporary identification documents were most widespread.

“Interestingly, in several high-stakes provinces, when voter turnout was consistent with the national average in a polling station, CNRP won, but in polling stations with extraordinarily large turnout, CPP won,” the group said in the report. 

At least 8.8 percent of the country’s 9.68 million eligible voters could not be found on official lists, leading to thousands being unable vote on election day.

The party subsequently refused to take its seats in parliament and led mass demonstrations in Phnom Penh with thousands of supporters calling for an impartial investigation into the election. The result was a city in chaos as violence erupted between police, armed with guns and smoke grenades, and protesters, leaving one shot dead and several others injured. For days, major intersections were blocked off with razor-wire barricades.

A system built on corruption
부패로 뒤엉킨 시스템

The CPP, which got its name in 1991, was formed from a band of defectors from dictator Pol Pot’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime which oversaw the deaths of nearly a quarter of the population between 1975 and 1979.  Hun Sen initially joined the Khmer Rouge against a pro-American government but fled to Vietnam in 1977 and joined the Vietnamese invasion that toppled the regime in 1979.

So how did the party, which has long praised itself for liberating the country and been in power since it was then-called The People’s Republic of Kampuchea in 1979, come so close to officially losing an election?

To understand the discontent among the nation, the country’s corrupt system and injustices have to be put into context.

Sebastian Strangio, author of Huns Sen’s Cambodiasays the younger generations, outspoken and in tune with the news, have become wise to government corruption and are no longer fooled by the party’s self-congratulatory rhetoric.

 Cambodia is perceived as one of the most graft-ridden countries in the world as indicated by its poor score in global corruption and business indexes.

The country scored 21 out of 100 - where 100 is the best score possible - and a rank of 156 out of 175 nations surveyed in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. Cambodia came 160 out of 177 countries in 2013.

Political patronage, crony capitalism, and “facilitation fees” have long been the way the economy has functioned under the CPP from the tycoons and senior officials dealing in clandestine, multi-million dollar land deals to the traffic police demanding a paltry bribe of a couple of dollars for minor offenses. And nowhere has such malfeasance been evident as in the extractive and logging industries.

“Having made their fortunes from logging much of the country’s forest resources, Cambodia’s elite have diversified their commercial interests to encompass other forms of state assets. These include land, fisheries, tropical islands and beaches, minerals and petroleum,” said Global Witness in its 2009 Country for  Sale report, adding that 45 percent of the country’s land had been purchased by private interests over the past 15 years.

Pacts between the government and powerful businessmen in the allocation of natural resources and the subsequent human and environmental rights violations that have tended to follow have drawn condemnation and despair from donors and rights groups.

Cambodia has lost more than seven percent of its forest cover over the past 12 years—the fifth fastest rate in the world. Tens of thousands of hectares of land inside protected areas have been designated as economic land concessions and given to agri-business firms.

The government has spun a host of spurious claims for why it continues to allow deforestation, such as the area demarcated for land concessions being “degraded” forest of no value.

Cambodia's Family Tree
캄보디아의 유력 집안

Those ransacking the country of its resources to the point of extinction are those who are embedded in the government by way of kinship, money or politics. Some of the most revelatory findings on the patronage structures that exist in the land and mining sectors were published some years ago by Global Witness.

In its 2007 report, Cambodia’s Family Trees, the organization details the intricate web of patronage that has allowed the government and its supporters to control the process of illegal logging.

When the report was published, the most powerful logging syndicate in Cambodia was Seng Keang Company, led by Hun Sen’s first cousin, Dy Chouch and his ex-wife Seng Keang. Keang was a friend of Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany, and their business partner, Khun Thong, was the brother-in-law of then-agriculture minister Chan Sarun.

Keang’s brother, who supervised operations for Seng Keang Company, was an officer in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ (RCAF) Brigade 70 elite military unit, a reserve force for Hun Sen’s 4,000 strong Bodyguard Unit, which are both controlled by the prime minister.

Similarly, in Country for Sale, Global Witness identified many of the exploratory mining licences in Cambodia were quietly allocated to members of the ruling elite or their relatives. Of the mine sites investigated by Global Witness in 2008, every single one was owned or controlled by members of Cambodia’s political or military elite, including Hun Sen’s first cousin and the head of RCAF.

In the organization’s crosshairs now is CPP timber magnate Try Pheap, previously a personal advisor to Hun Sen and said to be the godbrother of Bun Rany.

Dubbed the “King of Rosewood,” Pheap has been identified in investigations conducted by Global Witness and the local English-language press as being at the center of a huge illegal logging trade decimating the country's rarest species with the help of government and military officials.

The Phnom Penh Post reported last year that Pheap had allegedly made $227 million from illegally felling Siamese rosewood in the Cardamom Mountains and the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary between 2009 and 2013.

In a 2013 report, the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force said that Pheap’s acquisitions had resulted in nearly 1,500 families being evicted from their homes since 2010.

Pheap, who was not featured in Global Witness’ family trees report, appears to have emerged later and cultivated a more complex system which makes it harder to link him to illegal logging, said Josie Cohen, senior land campaigner at Global Witness.

“At the time of family trees it was a number of different concession companies logging and you could go to the concession and see what the company was doing. Now, the model Try Pheap has set up is much harder to combat because he has middle men who go into villages all over the country and pay the community members to log their own forests.”

“They say to the community ‘well if you don’t log them we’re going to log them anyway and you won’t get anything’,” she said.

Cohen added that due to the legal restrictions on felling luxury wood and exporting unprocessed timber, export licenses are faked and the goods not accounted for in trade figures.

Widespread human rights abuses
광범위한 인권 유린

According to the latest figures from rights group Licadho, the number of Cambodians caught in land conflicts has reached just over 500,000 since 2000.

Phil Robertson, the Asia division deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said such widespread environmental and human rights abuses have distanced the CPP from the electorate since the 2008 election.

“The CPP and its cronies really went into land seizure overdrive with foreign company partners and that alienated significant numbers of rural voters who saw their livelihoods and communities under threat,” he said.

But Pheap is just one of several powerful businessmen with government ties involved in lucrative, controversial operations.

In a 2007 cable to the US Secretary of State, the US Embassy in Phnom Penh listed 10 of the most prominent tycoons in a network that is so close to government that attempts for Hun Sen to conduct reforms would be almost impossible.

In return for funding charities and contributing money to the party, these tycoons receive “added credibility and legitimacy,” the embassy said.

“These symbiotic relationships illustrate the networks of business  tycoons, political figures, and government officials that have formed in Cambodia, which reinforce the culture of impunity and limit progress on reforms such as Hun Sen's self-declared ‘war on corruption.’”

The cable identifies Royal Group CEO Kith Meng as "Mr. Rough Stuff." Meng, a dual Cambodian-Australian citizen, whose portfolio stretches from communications to fast food, is described as a “relatively young and ruthless gangster” by Mekong Bank Chairman Michael Stephen.

But Meng’s most scrutinized venture is his partnership with Hydrolancang International Energy to build a hydropower dam in the northeastern province, Stung Treng. The deal has been slammed by environmental groups as it will displace thousands of families and cause extensive damage to the environment.

In a letter to Meng last year, a group of civil society organizations said the project must be immediately halted and that transparency around the project has been “vastly inadequate.” The letter cites a study predicting that the dam will reduce fish stocks in the river by about 200,000 tons per year.

Another character identified in the cable is CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, the CEO of the cigarette distributor Hero King Co. Ltd and majority shareholder of Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co., Ltd. Phat has come under fire for alleged land grabs and child labor.

The cable cites the Cambodian Center for Human Rights as accusing him of receiving land concessions that exceed the legal limit of 10,000 hectares from the government in 2006.

“Ly Yong Phat used his influence to send armed military police forces to grab land from villagers and to clear their lands by burning down their crops and trees.”

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