A Tiger Rules the Mountain

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

Radio Free Asia Interview: Khmer & English

“This book, you know, will take you into Cambodia and into the hearts and the minds of Cambodians living there.”

My interview with Radio Free Asia Radio about A Tiger and the upcoming Cambodian election is available in both English and in Khmer. Fortunately, you will be spared my Khmer with a Scottish accent as they dubbed me in the Khmer version, and my segment begins at 51mins. The English version is below.

Here’s some excerpts from the interview:

Interviewer: So the book focusses on Cambodian political history to today. What have you laid out in your book to tell the audience of the changing nature of Cambodian political history?

Gordon Conochie: Yeah, it really focuses on the last decade. There’s been quite a few books that have been written about the Khmer Rouge period and there are a few books that have been written about the 1990s and early 2000s. But I felt as though there wasn’t anybody writing about what was, you know, hugely important, significant events happening in Cambodia’s politics – from that 2013 period onwards. So, my book starts with that 2013 election starts, the the upsurge in support for the newly formed Cambodian National Rescue Party, and the coming together of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha.

I share the perspectives of Cambodians involved in these events what happened at that election and what happened next. And covers the main stories over the last few years – the death of Kim Ley, the closure of many media outlets in Cambodia, the arrest of Kem Sokha, the dissolution of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, and then the 2018 election. I spoke to people involved in government, and also the opposition and people in civil society, to hear and to feel, you know, what the current state of Cambodia is, and what people think the future will hold for Cambodia.

Interviewer: The younger generation, because with the technology, they, you know, they have access to social media platforms and they are able to see the outside world, the freedom. But how do you see that in Cambodia, I mean, are the younger generation able to understand freedoms through social media?

Gordon Conochie: I think that was really interesting in 2013, you know, the availability of social media, and the ability of people in Cambodia to know what was happening around the country, to know about the land problems, to know about the deforestation, to know about corruption to know about the shooting of garment factory workers. People became aware, and became knowledgeable about all of these problems, because of social media. I think that really helped people, young people and older people, be engaged in politics and question what was happening within Cambodia.

And I think young people, they generally are more educated, generally more aware of what’s happening in other countries, you know, they can look to see what’s happening in places like Malaysia or Thailand or Singapore or over in Europe and America, and certainly with the diaspora in other countries as well, the hear what life is like in other countries. And they begin to question well, why can’t we have something like that in Cambodia? Why is Cambodia different?

The one thing that’s changed, of course, is the control of social media has grown, so much so that no people are wary of voicing discontent on social media. And so that’s what’s changed in the last few years. There’s much more control over what people are doing on social media, and therefore, the space for free discussion, for exchanging ideas or dissent has has really reduced.

Interviewer: And now your book is you’re hoping to tell the story of all this power struggle in Cambodia, and how do you want people to to know Cambodia?

Gordon Conochie: That’s a great question. And so what I think is important is for people to read the story of what’s happening in Cambodia but not to be too despondent about Cambodia as a country or its people. I want people to read the book, and to feel and to hear the stories of Cambodians living there, and who are involved in these events. I think by listening to these people, and to hear their experiences, you come away with, with more hope. And without pity, you come away with admiration, because what Cambodian people have gone through, Khmer Rouge, civil wars, and where they are now is quite remarkable. You know, the resilience of Cambodian people, and the determination of many Cambodian people is certainly admirable.

And so yes, we can talk about the problems. And the book does that and we hear people talking about being imprisoned and we hear about people being discriminated against. But what we also hear from those people is their hope for the future, their defiance, their belief that Cambodia is going to be a better place.

And we also hear from people inside of government, who are also trying to work to improve Cambodia, and trying to make changes from within. And that was one of the interesting things that are people on both sides who want the same thing.

So I want people to read the book. And to know that Cambodia is a vibrant country, a country that’s full of opportunity and interesting experiences. It’s got the history, and it’s got beautiful countryside, people who are remarkably kind, brave, generous. Politically, it’s a place that we should care about as well and have an interest in and care about what will happen in the future.

Interviewer: Before we finish our conversation, I’ll give you a last minute for any advice or message to the people who will buy your book.

Gordon Conochie: I think, for me, this is a book, although my name is on the front, this book has been written by Cambodians. This book will take you into Cambodia and into the hearts and the minds of Cambodians living there. And it will connect you to a kind of world that maybe you don’t even know. But I promis that once you open that first page and meet the people, hear the stories, then you’ll be wrapped up in Cambodia as much as I am.

Radio Free Asia Khmer used to be one of the most popular radio stations in Cambodia before closing in 2017 under extreme pressure from the Cambodian government that alleged tax violations. Radio Free Asia did not have their own stations so leased time from dozens of local stations to air their programmes. In the days after the allegations of tax violations, the Government closed 21 radio stations for broadcasting too many of Radio Free Asia’s programmes. Other stations were warned to focus on entertainment.[1] Quickly, no station would lease time to Radio Free Asia and it now operates from outside Cambodia.

[1] Bastard, D. (2018). Cambodia: The Independent Press in Ruins. Paris, France: Reporters Without Borders, Paris

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