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PM Wants More People, Patronage Politics Rule, Porn Studio Raided
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, October 27, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
INNER CIRCLE: Family bonds and business are at the heart of Cambodian politics with seven of Hun Manet’s top 10 deputies deeply interconnected. Patronage and nepotism have been handed down for the future.
PEOPLE POWER: The Gen X prime minister wants the population to double or better by 2050 and he’s ready to do his part, asking his wife for a fourth child. He might be right: Cambodia’s urban birth rate is less than 1%.
BAD COMPANY: Cambodia was ranked last in Asia in an evaluation of the rule of law, worse than Myanmar. Worldwide, the Kingdom was rated lower than Haiti and Afghanistan, surpassing only Venezuela.
The Phnom Penh Court convicted Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua for incitement and conspiracy to commit treason for comments made on Facebook. The opposition leaders were each sentenced to eight years in prison.
Western nations, many of which hoped Hun Manet would prove less heavy-handed than his father, are still taking a “wait-and-see” approach. How long will they wait — and what will they do if the evidence can no longer be ignored?
If history is a guide, the answer is not much. The China-U.S. rivalry will keep human rights safely in the rearview mirror, and the Kingdom will continue to play all sides against each other like a geopolitical chess match.
The playbook of Hun Sen, and King Norodom Sihanouk before him, appears to have been extended for another chapter. Same as it ever was.
Cambodia’s plan to boost domestic energy production is sputtering. Of the three coal-powered plants announced in 2020, only one is operational, another has been mothballed, and the last has yet to even break ground.
The Kingdom, for years plagued by rolling blackouts, bet big on coal because nearly 50% of the country’s power comes from hydropower dams, and weather disruptions had made electricity output unreliable.
With few options left, the Minister of Energy has said the Kingdom was going all in on solar power. The country has plenty of sunlight, but without deep-pocketed investors, keeping the lights on will remain a challenge.
Communities in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary say they need protection from industrial-scale Chinese gold mines.
Chemicals used at the Late Cheng Mine are spilling into the local river, residents say, killing fish and poisoning community members who depend on the stream for drinking water. Open-air wastewater ponds, which store highly toxic liquids and are prone to rupturing, pose huge environmental dangers.
A Swiss conservation group has documented dozens of hair-raising concerns, including basic questions about the legality of gold mining in a wildlife sanctuary and the near-certain use of cyanide and mercury. The group has called on the government to shut down the operations.
It’s a perfect union of money and politics. Seven of the prime minister’s top 10 deputies are linked by marriage, business or blood, with Hun Manet’s family at the center of a sprawling web of patronage, according to an RFA investigation. The deepest ties extend from Pich Chanmony, the first lady, whose brother is married to a scion of Cambodian commerce with business interests across the Kingdom.
Forecasts showing the economy growing by more than 5% this year are fantasy, says Stephen Higgins, a partner at Mekong Strategic Capital, who estimates annual growth to be 2.5% or less. Even so, the Phnom Penh-based strategist said Cambodia was still an attractive long-term investment destination with some of the best growth prospects in Southeast Asia.
The mountainsides of Phnom Koh Keo in Preah Vihear province are being trucked away in daily convoys of iron ore, destroying roads, endangering lives and killing a local teen in a traffic accident. Mining insiders are alarmed by a wholesale lack of government action, raising troubling questions over who profits and who pays for the off-the-books mineral business.
Cambodia evacuated nearly 100 soldiers serving as U.N. peacekeepers in Mali, the conflict-ridden West African nation. The Malian military government, which seized power in 2020, ordered peacekeepers out by December. The U.N. fast-tracked the withdrawal this month after a rise in attacks by Islamic extremists.
For a second consecutive year, Cambodia scored dead last in Asia on the World Justice Project’s 2023 Rule of Law Index — and 141 out of 142 countries worldwide — coming in behind nations like Vietnam, China and Myanmar. The Kingdom earned a score of .31, on a scale of zero to one, ahead of only Venezuela.
“Have more children,” Hun Manet told the nation, while lamenting the country’s relatively small population of 17 million. The new prime minister wants a population of 40 to 50 million by 2050, and he said was personally working to boost the average by negotiating with his wife for a fourth child. Cambodia’s birth rate is less than 1% in urban areas, where couples have an average of only 1.5 children.
A suspected X-rated film studio in the capital’s Boeung Keng Kang district was raided and authorities arrested more than 30 suspects from China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Police believe the operation is linked to organized crime and the investigation continues.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
October 27, 2003
Canadian authorities are investigating a Cambodian businessman who claims to be an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen after they discovered $600,000 cash in his suitcase during an airport security check in Montreal, Canada, the Montreal Gazette newspaper reported.
October 22, 2003
Scenes of unfettered grief engulfed mourners in the corridors of the Preah Sihanouk Hospital on Tuesday as doctors fought to save the life of popular singer Touch Srey Nich, 24, who was shot twice in the face and once in the neck by assailants in a daytime attack that left her mother dead.
October 21, 2003
Donors at the Finance Ministry Monday called on the government to make expenditures more transparent and improve financial accountability, while the Finance Minister said the government was not ready to implement reforms immediately.
‘I am afraid I will kill myself, like my husband’: spotlight on loan firms in Cambodia after Indigenous suicides
Microfinance was meant to reduce poverty, but borrowers allege they have been victims of ‘predatory’ loans and repayment tactics, which have led to desperation and deaths.
Despite ongoing controversy in its flagship Southern Cardamom REDD+ project, the Kingdom is driving forward with plans to greatly expand climate finance schemes across its officially protected areas. In partnership with the Earth Journalism Network, the Globe went deep to learn what lies within the country's credit rush.
Photos: Mu Sochua, Facebook. Hun Manet, RFA.
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