For years, Tep Khunnal was the devoted personal secretary of Pol Pot, staying loyal to the charismatic ultracommunist leader even as Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge movement collapsed around them in the late 1990s, The New York Times reports:
Forced to reinvent himself after Pol Pot’s death, he fled to this outpost on the Thai border and began following a different sort of guru: the Austrian-American management theorist and business consultant Peter Drucker… The residents of this dusty but bustling town are almost all former Khmer Rouge soldiers or cadres and their families, but they have come to embrace capitalism with almost as much vigor as they once fought to destroy class distinctions, free trade and even money itself.
“I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker’s ideas and made the countries prosperous,” he said.
While such entrepreneurial activity is welcome, in programs supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, Cambodian democrats are striving to strengthen the role of the business community as an advocate for reform and to improve the institutional capacity of Cambodian business associations to serve their members and engage in public policymaking.
But civil society groups in Cambodia have expressed concerns over increasing restrictions placed on them since the passage of laws governing NGOs and unions, VOA Khmer reports:
The groups were speaking on Thursday at an annual meeting of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), a coalition of some 160 civil society groups. Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said during a panel discussion at the event that the CCC’s members were coming under increasing pressure from the state.
“Like with the NGO and union laws, they are putting more pressure on [civil society]. If we look at freedom of assembly, these days the government cracks down without caring about laws or their obligations,” he said. “With regards to freedom of expression, the government, especially the prime minister, makes threats almost every day.”
There is an urgent need for political dialogue, says Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“While the responsibility for ensuring and protecting human rights lies with the state authorities, others also have a crucial role to play in ensuring the success of Cambodia’s liberal democracy,” she writes for The Phnom Penh Post. “All branches of government, as well as all political parties, need to step back from confrontation and act to stop the escalation of political tensions; set aside past grievances and engage in genuine dialogue to find solutions to the current political deadlock.”