Thursday, June 26, 2008

What to do and an election...

It is hard being a lady of leisure. I finish work at 11.30am-ish (having started at 7.30am) and so that leaves the rest of the day free. There are not a lot of activities in Phnom Penh on some afternoons I am left wondering what to do until I go full time in August.

One project is going to be teaching the children at CCH how to use digital cameras and how to take great pictures so that they can be sold and we can have an exhibition - That will take up a lot of time once it gets going. Another ... the potential painting of the CCH classrooms to make it a better environment for the children. I am going to speak to the director about this tomorrow hopefully.
In the meantime, I have needed to find other ideas which yesterday involved a trip to the Russian Market. Seeing the women slice open the half alive fish, the chickens, dead, plucked but still with the feet on, the meat covered in the flies etc. There is however a really nice place in the market to have a drink of fresh orange juice and have a chat to the young woman (17 yrs) who works there.

Yesterday she told me how she gets up at 3am to come to the market and prepare for the day. At 5am-ish the first customers arrive, she stays there until 5.30pm when she goes home and studies English until 9.30pm when she goes to bed. While it may be true that the Cambo office workers culture is to do as little as possible and surf the internet whenever possible (to be fair this I think is actually just an international office work ethic) her working day is far from lazy, slow or unproductive. Her dedication to study English from a dry boring grammar exercise book after she has worked all day in a boiling hot, dirty, smelly market is exceptional. She taught me some Khmer - Being not such a good student I have forgotten most of it already.

Feeling rehydrated and educated (but dirtier) I took a trip to my favourite shop "Beautiful Shoes".

In case you are ever in the area

I now have 3 pairs of custom made shoes but at $16-$18 its just not enough. So I picked out a pair of retro sandals which I ordered in a different colour and leather soles and a pair in a bronzy colour which I created myself putting together different aspects from lots of shoes in the shop. Ummmm nice! In need of chalk and balloons for my lesson today I then went into a new stationery shop and met a delightful Cambodian family (about 10 of them) and rather than just buy the chalk it turned into a bit of a chat and trying to speak to their children in Khmer. Its that type of thing that I love here.

One thing that I do not love is the corruption. This is particularly evident in the run up to the main elections taking place on 27th July. Today was the first day of (official) campaigning and straight away there are posters for the Prime Minister's party - CPP everywhere pasted outside houses. Also the police are causing problems on the roads and political rallies have started in the city.
Political poster on the house opposite for the PM's party CPP and one of the "election jeeps" parked on my road (also for the party - CPP)

Here is a short political history for you!

Before the the 70s the monarchy ruled Cambodia. In 1975 the radical and genocidal Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge was eventually overthrown in 1979 by Cambodian communists who were backed by 100,000 Vietnamese troops. During the 1980s Vietnam had troops stationed in Cambodia and during this period the only legal political party was the Kampochean People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP - who are now called the CPP).

With the help of the United Nations, internal conflict within Cambodia was resolved with a peace accord which was signed in Paris in 1991. A UN protectorate was to help rule Cambodia until national elections were held in 1993. When the elections were held, 20 political parties participated with two parties winning the majority of seats, FUNCINPEC and CPP (formerly the KPRP).

Two prime ministers headed the government; Prince Norodom Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC was the first prime minister with Hun Sen of the CPP being the second prime minister. However, Hen Sen managed to manipulate the relationship and divide and rule tactics when possible and violence when necessary- So, by 1997 the coalition government by this time had virtually ceased to function. This built up until the tensions finally exploded with two days of fierce fighting and from which Hun Sen emerged as the leader of Cambodia. Many international observers labelled this a political coup detat.

The focus of international agencies assisting with the rebuilding of the country was to ensure that the elections due in 1998 were held on schedule. The elections went ahead in 1998 and despite the other parties claiming large scale election irregularities, voter intimidation and political violence by the CPP the election was declared (by foreign election monitors) "fair enough to reflect the broad will of the people."
The CPP won 64 seats in the 122 member parliament, FUNCINPEC won 43 seats and the Sam Rainsy Party received 15 seats. A two-thirds majority is required in the National Assembly to form a government, these results forced the formation of a new coalition (again). However, this time Hun Sen was the only prime minister. Since 1998, the new coalition is completely dominated by Hun Sen's CPP. Hun Sen is widely viewed as the only person capable of bringing stability to the country. Many foreign governments and Cambodians therefore support him.

Further elections were held in 2003. It resulted in a larger majority for the CPP. However, the party was still short of the 2/3 of votes required to form the government and a new coalition with FUNCINPEC was formed.

Scarily, like so many politicians here, Hun Sen is ex-Khmer Rouge.
If your interested in the pending violence (or non violence) -

and another thing...

(Here he is - not one of my pictures!)

Hun Sen made an announcement at a graduation ceremony in front about 3,000 people that his adopted daughter is lesbian. He explained that this was a personal struggle for him he said that he could not accept this in his own family even though he had learned that homosexuality was acceptable.... He took legal steps to disown this daughter and to prevent her from any entitlement to inheritance. Despite this he asked the audience to accept homosexuals!

Some pictures from my balcony for light entertainment after that "party political broadcast".

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