Saturday, 31 August 2013

Mass Demonstration or Violent Crackdown—Lose-Lose for All

By - August 14, 2013

By Kimly Ngoun
This opinion is apolitical. I write out of concern for the Cambodian people and the country.
The news of a possible opposition CNRP-led mass demonstration and the CPP’s response to deploy armed forces and ar­mored personnel carriers (APCs) in and around Phnom Penh looks like both political camps are heading toward confrontation. 

Even more worrisome are the contradictory statements from within the CNRP and the ruling party about their respective intentions. If a mass demonstration takes place and the government reacts with force, both political parties and the country as a whole will lose.

If there is a mass protest, the big question for the CNRP is how to keep it peaceful? How can it guarantee control over every protesters’ movement, gestures and words? Any provocative move or slogan from a few demonstrators may invite a response from the armed forces with the potential to inflame chaos and violence. If such a scenario were to occur, the CNRP’s leaders would be held, if not legally, morally responsible for casualties and loss of lives.

The CNRP will surely disappoint many of its supporters who voted for “change,” but change in a sense for a more peaceful, prosperous, just and civilized nation, not a change to violence, tragedy and backwardness.

If the CPP uses force to suppress demonstrators, it faces three major risks. Firstly, the party’s leaders may be liable to prosecution by either local or international courts. Secondly, if the violent crackdown fails to scare people away and reduce the number of demonstrators but instead inspires more people to take to the streets, this could spillover to other provinces throughout the country.
Some of the CPP’s officials and members of the military and the police (especially those mid-level and low-ranking officers) will have to ask themselves the question—should I stay or should I go? Any defection by members of the ruling party and the military will greatly damage the government’s legitimacy; affect the psychology of those who stay and possibly provide an excuse for foreign countries to intervene militarily.

If there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people joining the demonstration, it would not be surprising for the soldiers and police to find their friends and relatives among the protesters.
Thirdly, violent action will tarnish the ruling party’s image as the guardian of peace and political stability.

History has informed us that negotiation and settling of disputes by peaceful means is the door to lasting peace and social harmony. Violent means cause revenge and tragedy.

Cambodian voters regardless of political tendencies value peace, social harmony and the country’s prosperity. And they have already fulfilled their obligation as a good citizen by voting.
Now it is the turn of the leaders of both parties to demonstrate that they truly care about: the people and the country. The world is watching Cambodia. Let us prove that we are a civilized race and a responsible world citizen by resolving the standoff peacefully.

Kimly Ngoun is a postgraduate student at the Australian National University, Canberra.
© 2013, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

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