Sunday, December 29, 2013

12. Unrest in Phnom Penh 

Tens of Thousands on Street

The civil unrest in Thailand seems to spill over into Cambodia, although for other reasons. While in that country it is the urge to remove the corrupt government of Taksin Sinawatra's sister, Yingluck, who gets the more educated on the streets of Bangkok for now the third consecutive month, here in Cambodia the masses simply want more money and better living conditions; who wouldn't. 

Currently in Bangkok:

People here in Cambodia see the mansions, waste and indulgence of the Hun Sen government, in power since 1998, and one of the longest ruling dictators in the world (with Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe and Nazarbajev, Kazachstan). 

A bloody coup got him, the former Maoist Khmer Rouge member (the party that killed about 4 million Cambodian citizens), into power when he overthrew the elected Prime Minister Norodom Rannaridhh. He vowed to stay in power until he is 74 years old; history will tell whether he will gun down the current movement as well, or things come to a smooth and democratic ending. 

Many past elections are supposedly rigged, and Hun Sen's government is accused of widespread corruption and human rights abuses. 

Now it seems, people are really acting up. One can see the newly rich driving around in 2014 Rolls Royce 'Ghost's' ($300,000++), Porsche Cayenne, and the most favored mode of transportation, and a 'Must' and ultimate status symbol, a black 2014 Range Rover.

New arrival: 2014 Rolls Royce Ghost, in Phnom Penh showroom ($300,000, without extras and tax).
Average income in Cambodia is around $1/day in the provinces, $100/month in Phnom Penh. A garment factory worker earns about $60/month. Every day in Phnom Penh, 80 cars receive registration.

Those who drive such cars, in the front window the government issued "VIP plate", ticket-free free parking anywhere and other perks, are a blatant juxtaposition to the many factory workers and farmers earning about $25-60 per month, and who are now on the streets in the tens-of-thousands. This year already saw bloody disputes when riot police killed protesters after the contested election. I sure hope it doesn't come to that again.

This one is taken with my phone, so quality is a little low:

Street vendors hand out free water and baguette to the demonstrators.
This is a small gesture, but really touching when you see it happen.

Minimum wage demanded: $160/month.

No eyes for AUDI's new Phnom Phen construction site: On the way to the demonstration.

Cambodians are in general gentle people; I am not sure that they will be able to shake off a repressive, authoritarian regime such as the one of Hun Sen with -still- friendly protest such as these. It seems that Cambodians lack the determination and brutality of their Thai neighbors.

Comment concerning the face, or surgical masks people are wearing in the videos and pictures: 

This is not to obscure the face and make police identification harder, it is a measure against the pollution in the city caused by the many diesel vehicles, most of them without catalytic converter, and the 2-stroke scooters. I wear a mask like that when I ride the motorcycle, and I always wear one when I walk through town. It isn't the most comfortable way to breath, but it makes a difference.

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