Cambodia is a powder keg just waiting to explode, says opposition party Vice President Mu Sochua.
The nation’s “unfair economic growth is a time bomb. It can explode at any moment,” the VP of now banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) tells Borderless News Online.
Those comments come just days after Sunday’s elections. The elections have been widely criticized as rigged, as the opposition was banned from running. That has shown millions of poor Cambodians that they have no voice, and could cause frustrations to boil over in a country with a long history of turmoil, says Mu Sochua.
While the country’s economy and middle class have seen rapid growth in the past decade, there’s also an increasing rich-poor gap.
“An economic growth that benefits the top 10 percent is very fragile and undemocratic,” says Mu Sochua.
Cambodia’s economy is also highly dependent on exports, and a decrease in outside demand can lead to sudden job losses for low income earners, destroying poor families who have no savings and lots of debt. Tensions caused by such economic crises could spill over into protests and violence, as Sunday’s election proved there’s now no way to vote corrupt officials out of office, critics of election say.
“Economic growth alone without…sharing of power as a means for social and economic justice, is short- sighted,” she says.
While she agrees that Cambodia has seen major economic growth and an expanding middle class over the past decade, she notes that many rural families have lost land under the government’s massive land grabbing scheme, as the regime kicked the poor off their land so corrupt officials and their friends could get rich by building factories.
“The clear negative consequence of economic growth with no democracy or human rights is migration for employment,” she says, referring to the many young people who’ve been forced to leave their villages and their country to find work, after being kicked off their family’s land by the government.
“Our 700,000 garment factory workers are our rural youth, children of our farmers who have lost their land, whose parents are in debt, (as well as) unskilled youth,” she adds, speaking of the nation’s garment sector, a major source of employment for low-income youth.
“Cambodia has close to two million youth working outside of the country as unskilled laborers. The government’s solution to unemployment or under- employment is migration,” she says.
“Yes, there is growth. Yes, there is growing middle-class that is the product of that economic growth,” she says. But for Cambodia not to protect human rights or independent media, and not to have a functional opposition, is “denying those who have no voice, no opportunities and no protection.”
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