Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

In Cambodia, it's the art of the possible

By Verghese Mathews - posted Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Cambodia's politicians now have a chance to put the country's interests ahead of personal enmities.

For a country that often gets bad press - sometimes of its own making - in the last fortnight Cambodia has demonstrated the adage that in politics, anything is possible, and in the practice of politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

In a heady week in Phnom Penh, proposals and counter-proposals moved with the proverbial speed of summer lightning - apologies were rendered, and accepted, royal pardon sought and readily granted. Prison gates opened and an embattled prodigal party leader found the confidence to return to the embrace of his loyal supporters.


Detractors who - only a month earlier - had noisily condemned Cambodia going the way of Myanmar were among those most taken by surprise by the sudden turn of events.

The politicians kept negotiating cards close to their chests, amid the standard noise and haste, as they deftly worked at face-saving devices and fallback positions.

In the end, the sought-for compromise was neither complicated or cumbersome - if Opposition leader Sam Rainsy would publicly state that his oft-repeated allegations against Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh were entirely without basis, the plaintiffs would withdraw their respective suits.

Sam Rainsy promptly despatched the agreed-upon apology letters. On receiving them, Hun Sen, as Head of Government, formally requested that Head of State King Norodom Sihamoni grant the royal pardon, which came to pass on Sunday, February 5, 2006. On his return to Phnom Penh on February 10, Rainsy was all smiles and all hope.

He told the waiting media he was happy to have reached a compromise with the other two leaders, and was eager to put aside decade-long disputes and jointly work for the good of the country. He was also keen to go round the country meeting his people and spreading the reconciliation message.

The sudden end of the crisis, which had been smouldering since the 2003 general election, also caught most Sam Rainsy Party supporters by surprise.


Some, tired of the long standoff, welcomed Rainsy's return and the chance for the former finance minister to play his legitimate role as leader of the Opposition. But there were, as could have been expected, other party members who felt Rainsy had yielded too much to Hun Sen - even if it had been for strategic reasons.

Hun Sen, Ranariddh and Rainsy have all made conciliatory statements in the last fortnight. Public reaction, from published press reports and the more down-to-earth internet comments, range from cautious optimism to scepticism that this unnatural state of affairs can be sustained.

It appears the majority, used to political acrobatics and one-upmanship, are waiting for further developments, before deciding whether celebrations are in order.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Article edited by Virginia Tressider.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Verghese Mathews, a former Singapore ambassador to Cambodia, is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Verghese Mathews

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy