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Cambodia’s Parliament Accused of Ignoring Citizens in New Year Blessings

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni, right, greets Heng Samrin, left, National Assembly President, before an annual royal plowing ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, file photo.

Human rights groups and land activists have accused the parliament of only offering blessings to dignitaries, and ignoring the voters who elect its 123 members.

While the National Assembly offered its blessings to senior government officials and the royal family to mark the passing of the old year to the new in the international calendar, some have remarked upon the absence of Cambodia’s citizens in the parliament’s blessings.

Four letters signed by the National Assembly’s president, Cambodian People’s Party Honorary President Heng Samrin, were sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Senate President Say Chhum, both senior CPP leaders, as well as to King Norodom Sihamoni and King Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk.

Such blessings have become tradition over the past decade or so, with Cambodian leaders using the media to send praises and wishes of respect to one another. But human rights groups and land activists have accused the parliament of only offering blessings to dignitaries, and ignoring the voters who elect its 123 members.

Hun Sen, for his part, posted a short message on his Facebook page blessing the Cambodian people for the New Year.

The National Assembly’s letters, released on Tuesday, wished all the recipients long lives and good health, but also contained specific blessings. The letters to the King and his mother wished that the monarchy continue to provide a “shelter from the cold” for all Cambodians, and honored the sacrifices that King Sihamoni and his father, the late Norodom Sihanouk have made for the country.

To Say Chhum, the National Assembly hoped for the senate president to remain healthy in order to continue his work, which it said was improving the rule of law and democracy, and deepening reforms in all sectors of Cambodia.

The letter to Hun Sen, similarly, blessed the long-standing prime minister to remain healthy and smart, and praised his leadership, which it said had brought development and world renown for Cambodia.

Activists say that while offering each other blessings has become a habit for Cambodia’s political elite, leaders are not paying enough attention to important issues in the country, namely human rights abuses, deforestation and land grabbing, which affect many ordinary people.

Am Sam Ath, chief investigator for the rights group Licadho, told VOA Khmer that the assembly should pay more attention to the Khmer people, who’s votes the members of parliament rely on to get elected.

“The parliament was born from the people who voted to form it, so the parliament should also send a New Year blessing letter to the people, who are the owners of the ballot papers,” he said, adding that Samrin, as the leader of the National Assembly, was responsible for the omission.

“In the name of civil society, we see that Cambodia still lacks many things for developing the country, especially respect for human rights, which is stated in the Constitution,” Sam Ath added. “We haven’t respected the Constitution fully. Secondly, we haven’t done a lot to curb deforestation, and the forests are already gone.”

Land activist Tep Vanny said parliament was guilty of ignoring the people it is supposed to represent.

“I think that [Samrin’s] letters mean clearly that he discriminates against the people, and he doesn’t pay attention to the sadness or happiness of the Khmer people,” she said. “We have seen that most of the time many innocent Cambodians have become the victims due to this government’s leadership system.”

“He doesn’t have any willingness to bless, encourage, or motivate the Cambodian people.”