A Tiger Rules the Mountain

The world's longest serving Prime Minister and Cambodia's pursuit of democracy

Australian TV News Interview

I made my debut on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The World program last Wednesday (5th July) talking about the upcoming Cambodian election and my book. You can watch me and host Beverley O’Connor get all chummy and judge whether I sufficiently softened by Scottish accent to be understood.

Beverley, we’re close friends now, has previously interviewed Hun Manet and has a good knowledge about Cambodia meaning she asked great questions. She started off by asking where my book starts and whether the election on 23 July is a sham election – it’s certainly not going to be competitive.

We also discussed the trade-off between economic development and personal freedom, which many Cambodians see as a false trade-off; you don’t need to imprison people critical of government or evict people from their homes and land for economic development. This trade-off has its roots in concepts of Asian Values that prioritises economic rights over human rights, and emphasising benefits of consensus, harmony and deference to authority. I explained that Cambodia is now viewing Singapore as a role model rather than Western countries like America, and of course is being influenced by China which is by far its greatest investor.

We also talked about Hun Sen’s popularity, which I explored when conducting research for A Tiger. Many government officials and Hun Sen supporters explain why they think Hun Sen is the best leader for their country in A Tiger, views which are often ignored by foreign media and authors who focus on critiques of Hun Sen’s authoritarianism. It’s too simple, and indeed incorrect, to say that Hun Sen rules by fear alone. The fact is that he has constituencies of support in many government insitutions (army, police, civil service), among rural farmers, market stall holders and even growing popularity among garment factory workers who have previously been hostile.

However, as I explained at the end of the interview, quoting Davuth from A Tiger, Cambodians may be enjoying the peace and quiet, but that does not mean they are happy.

My proudest moment was not appearing on national TV, however, but the fact that my local pub The Inkerman Hotel put the interview up on their big screens, switching from football and horse racing. My normal Wednesday nights are spent with the Inkermen five-a-side football team hammering the opposition before toasting our success in the pub afterwards. Alas, last Wednesday, we only drew 4-4 and I had to head home immediately afterwards to shower and shave before my big date. However, it was good to see that my teammates, who reviewed drafts of the book and have supported me throughout, got to enjoy the interview with a glass in hand. I’m sure the pub was rocking.

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