After a sham election and a ban on free media, Cambodia’s new generation of tech-savvy youth still has social media — a powerful protest tool, opposition party Vice President Mu Sochua tells Borderless News Online.
“Mass protests are bound to happen. Our youth have access to social media. They will demand justice,” says Mu Sochua, VP of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). “It will happen if CPP maintains their politics of winner takes all.”
These comments come just a week after elections that many in the international community called a sham, as the CNRP — the only viable opposition — was banned from participating.
While the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party) has banned media critical of the regime, young people are plugged into social media such as Facebook, which gives them a space to post comments criticizing the ruling party, she says.
Indeed, during the 2013 general elections, in which the CPP saw its biggest losses ever, the Internet and social media enabled young people to get news from a source besides state-controlled media. That trend groups Cambodia with myriad other nations worldwide, where people are getting their news from social media instead of traditional media. (Borderless News Online also posts much content on its Facebook page).
Protests will also occur because people believe they have no other way to vent their misgivings about the government, after the election that offered only one real choice. That can cause the pot to boil over, in a country with a history of turmoil and protests, Mu Sochua says.
“Without a vibrant civil society, a real opposition and an independent media, the people will have no other venues to air their anger and frustration,” Mu Sochua says.
It’s true that Cambodia under Hen Sen has seen the most rapid economic growth in decades, after years of trying to crawl out from the economic turmoil caused by the Khmer Rouge genocide. The country is now seeing an expansion of the middle class and a booming garment sector – not to mention, ironically, a faster Internet speed than many of its neighbors. However, it’s also true that the rich-poor gap has also grown, leaving many people frustrated and angry at their dim prospects, while the elite continue to get richer.
Highlighting what could happen to those who criticize the government online, Mu Sochua says “The danger for those youths who bravely remain defiant by making critical comments on Facebook increases with the government order of crackdown, of labeling critics as traitors and using the court to silent critics.”
Moreover, the protests Mu Sochua is predicting could get ugly, she says.
“When protests happen…no one can stop it. CPP will crush the protesters, armed forces… will be ordered to break up the ‘traitors’ but the people can not be pushed back to their land if there’s no more land left, no forests left, no coast line left, no ancestral land left,” Mu Sochua says.
Her comments refer to the government’s massive land grabbing scheme, in which droves of poor farmers have been kicked off their land so that corrupt officials and their friends can build factories. That has led over a million Cambodians to migrate abroad in a bid to make ends meet.
In some ways, the ruling CPP may have more than it bargained for, being the only party in power now. In banning the opposition, the CPP has put itself on the hook to deliver a laundry list of much-needed services nationwide. If they fail, they won’t be able to blame any other party, Mu Sochua says.
“By taking the 125 seats through sham election, the CPP is challenging themselves to deliver, to (end) the hunger of the people for services, for jobs, for education, health care and for justice,” she says.
“CPP can not stop people from demanding for clean water, basic services, education for their children, markets for their crops,” she says.
Mu Sochua added that even without the opposition CNRP, young people will “take the situation in their own hands without CNRP leaders,” but adds that the political system should be inclusive, with room for both the CPP and the CNRP.
Still, there is the possibility, down the road, that some will become disillusioned, Mu Sochua says.
“The real danger of such a sham election is the loss of hope of our youth. Why care , why speak up, why fight for change?”
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