Cambodia suffers from poor leadership, with poor prospects not just in the ruling party, but among opposition leaders, a former Cambodian professor in the US says.
South Africa had Nelson Mandela, Burma has Aung San Suu Kyi, but Cambodia has “Class Z” leaders like Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Naranhkiri Tith, a former professor at Johns Hopkins University.
“Where on Earth can a country like that survive?” he said.
The country also lacks strong leadership amongst its opposition, said Naranhkiri Tith, who left the country in the 1960s and settled in the US.
Sam Rainsy, the main opposition leader, is in exile and faces more than 10 years of imprisonment over charges related to the destruction of markers near the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province.
Naranhkiri Tith said Sam Rainsy had incited people against the Vietnamese “the cheap way” and would not be able to compete with the ruling party and Hun Sen without more struggle.
“These leaders, I am not saying they are worse than Hun Sen, but they are not that good,” he said. “Cambodians need the quality of Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who have great moral strength.”
Sam Rainsy declined to comment, but he has said in the past he has been forced to lead the opposition from abroad. He has said he was protecting Cambodian land from Vietnamese encroachment.
Kem Sokha, head of the minority opposition Human Rights Party, who is touring Australia to find support for his party, said he distrusted the main opposition and so had created his own party.
“If we have only politicians and leaders who incite people and run away, we see it is impossible to solve problems,” he said. “Today, the ruling party knows how to frighten people, and Sam Rainsy alarms people, but the Human Rights Party makes people understand and feel warm, in order to take victory in changing the dictatorial leaders.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan told VOA Khmer the administration was gradually resolving the country’s most important problems with human rights and democracy, but its main focus is on peace.
“This is the very highest value for the Cambodian nation,” he said. The government “is establishing Cambodia as independent and neutral and not receiving sanctions from China or the West or neighboring countries.”
Meanwhile, Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Cambodian politics have not developed but that could change in the next generation.
Political infighting now is about individuals, he said, not social or political policies for national problems.
Hun Sen, who has held power for three decades, has not had a real political rival. The Sam Rainsy Party has slowly grown its influence and now holds 26 of 123 National Assembly seats. The Human Rights Party has three seats. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has 90 seats.
Naranhkiri Tith said the leadership of Suu Kyi and Mandela could serve as a good example for Cambodians.
While acknowledging Vietnamese influence as a threat to the country’s national security, he said violence should be avoided. “To cry wolf” or to appear racist against the Vietnamese is to lose international support, he said.
“So we should concentrate on trying to fight for our freedom inside the country, to protect human rights, to protect liberty, to protect freedom, to protect our land and our people, without referring to the Vietnamese,” he said. “That’s what all the leaders should do.”