Thanks for your review of the book by Jean-Daniel Gardere on Keat Chhon in the article “A Man for All Regimes” (12 May). Indeed, Mr. Chhon has made the amazing crossing through major spectrums of his working life. Many would describe his political career as a plant that blooms every season. Some wonder how he sleeps at night, given that the crossing repeatedly steps over his early ideology, assuming he has one.
However, perhaps a study in contrast with one of his contemporaries, Ping Say, could be more fascinating. Both, at least in their youth, shared the same ideology, which was left-wing oriented, when they were attending schools in France.
In Cambodia, Ping Say got arrested a few times for his political activities, including one time soon after his wedding day. He was a high school teacher and a newspaper publisher.
During Lon Nol’s republic, he presided over a teachers’ association that was very critical of the government. He left the regime to join the Khmer Rouge resistance in a liberated zone following persistent threats of arrest.
After a Khmer Rouge victory, he failed to secure any significant role due to his left-wing ideology that was regarded as being moderate and, hence, unacceptable. He was placed under “farm” arrest where his every move was watched.
Ping Say did not fare any better after the Vietnamese troops successfully obliterated the Khmer Rouge regime. He refused the then-Prime Minister Pen Sovann’s offer of a significant role in the Education Ministry. He was subsequently put in a dark
prison cell, which lasted for 10 years.
He passed away in the U.S. a few years ago, buried with him a political career tree that withered in any season. It seems Ping Say, unlike Mr. Chhon, failed to master the art of a flexible ideology.
Ung Bun Ang is a former senator of Cambodia