With Cries of War From Both Sides, How Peaceful Is Cambodia?

By Sovannarith Keo

How do you feel when prior to every election, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and our incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen try to instill psychological fear among the electorate by openly warning that, should the opposition party win the election, Cambodia will once again be plunged into an all-out civil war or witness the return of a similar Khmer Rouge genocidal regime?

Aren’t such remarks tantamount to an advanced “Declaration of War” should his party lose any general elections? And do they not imply that the CPP is ready to do all it takes, including the use of violence or military force, to cling to power—as it did with UNTAC back in 1993—should it lose the election?

Meanwhile, our opposition leader Sam Rainsy also warned that should election fraud be reported, there could be violence. Isn’t this another sign of resorting to violence rather than seeking peaceful or non-violent solutions?

As Khmers, are we more prone to violence and warfare? How peaceful and stable are we now?

According to this year’s recently released Failed State Index (FSI), prepared by the Fund for Peace and published in U.S. magazine Foreign Policy, which analyzes the level of stability among 178 countries, Cambodia is ranked at 41 and classified in the “Very High Warning” category, but not yet at an “Alert” level.

The U.S.-based Fund for Peace claims the FSI is “a critical tool in highlighting not only the normal pressures that all states experience, but also in identifying when those pressures are pushing a state towards the brink of failure.” By doing so it makes “political risk assessment and early warning of conflict accessible to policymakers and the public at large.”

The FSI classifies countries into four main categories: “Alert,” “Warning,” “Stable” and “Sustainable”—each of which is further classified into three sub-categories (very high, high, and normal).

Sweden and Finland are the only two countries categorized as “Very Sustainable,” while Singapore, the U.S., the U.K. and France are among the “Very Stable” countries. On the other end of the spectrum, the top ten most fragile and dangerous countries are: Somalia, Congo (D.R.), Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Yemen, Afghanistan, Haiti, Central African Republic and Zimbabwe.

In the region, Cambodia stands at 41, more than half way better off than Burma at 26, yet riskier than Laos at 58, the Philippines at 59, Indonesia at 76, Thailand at 90 and Vietnam at 97. Interestingly, Cambodia is just 7 places above Egypt, which falls at number 34 under the “Alert” category (it should be noted that the report was prepared prior to the recent military coup in Egypt). By and large, over the past five years, according to the same FSI data, Cambodia has maintained its steady rank within the 40-range, indicating that the country has not made any significant progress toward a “Sustainable” stage.

One country to have made strides in this year’s FSI is Burma. According to Foreign Policy, Burma has “gone in short order from international pariah to the darling of global investors, edging its way out of the top 25.” It should be noted that the country in 2008 was ranked at number 12.

Be that as it may, regardless of whatever the above rank tells us, Cambodia’s peace and stability remain at a relatively weak or unsustainable stage and therefore more work needs to be done if it wants to reach a so-called more sustainable level.

While it is unarguable that the country has so far enjoyed an absence of war since 1998, the mere absence of war and direct physical violence (negative peace) itself is not what a sustainable peace (positive peace) is about, as argued by a number of well-known peace studies scholars.

The country still faces myriad issues of structural and cultural violence (indirect violence)—ranging from social injustice, rampant corruption, social in­equality, land grabbing and evictions to restricted civil and political rights, environmental degradation and impunity—that need to be promptly addressed.

Sovannarith Keo is an in­dependent research professional.

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