This is a short, happy piece about what doesn’t happen in China. But it does happen in the South East Asian country – Cambodia – that has emerged as China’s closest ally/economic vassal state since Myanmar executed it’s cunning plan to wriggle out of the tight embrace that was beginning to crush it.
Today the youth of Cambodia – as well as quite a few old timers – spilled out onto the streets of the steamy capital Phnom Penh to celebrate the return of Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader who has been in exile since 2009 after being forced to flee politically motivated criminal defamation charges for which he was tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of flag waving, chanting, singing and cheering that reached ecstatic delirium as Rainsy was sighted during a grand open-air procession from the airport to Wat Phnom in the centre of town this morning where he addressed his supporters during the heat of the day.
The chants were simple “change or not change” and “win or not win” and the young people have adapted and adopted last year’s Korean pop sensation Gangnam Style (by Psy) as their anthem. Even when a well organized rival procession from the ruling Cambodian People’s Pary cut through the celebrations, the chanting and shouting at each other was good natured and the handful of police were untroubled.
Last week Rainsy was granted a royal pardon issued at the request of Hun Sen, the former Khmer Rouge leader, now well into his fourth decade as leader of Cambodia, who with Vietnamese help rescued the country from the unspeakable attrocities of his one-time comrade in arms Pol Pot. But Sen has now ruled with an iron fist since then, despatching rivals along the way and looks to be setting up one of his sons as his “successor”. Rainsy has hooked up with another opposition heavyweight Ken Sokha in an effort to better unite against the incumbent.
Papers in the local Khmer language are heavily censored here still and the government appears to have learnt a trick or two from their Chinese financiers about website blocking. Remarkably, the two English language dailies The Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily do a very good job. But the breathtaking take up of mobile phones and mobile internet across Asia is being felt in Cambodia too. People have a new media platform and youth are informing each other through social media.
Cambodia has a horrific still-recent past, a corruption clogged present and an uncertain future. The result of the election – which will have no official international observers – in nine days time is already clear.
But today, at least, there was the wonderful feeling of hope in the air.