Sochua may yet be tipping point

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

King Baby Hun
Sochua vs Sen

July 28, 2010
By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth
Pacific Daily News

Supporters of Cambodian premier Hun Sen wished lawmaker Mu Sochua had been arrested and sent to rot in jail. Sochua's supporters cheered her refusal to pay court-ordered fines and the regime's backtracking from arresting Sochua by the July 15 deadline.

With Sochua free, they asserted, "justice has prevailed!"

But wait! A new round of Khmer political Ramvong has begun. Ramvong is a popular, slow-circle dance with men and women continuously moving in the same circle, with graceful hand movements and simple footwork, as long as the drumbeats continue.

It has been said that premier Sen bows to no man or law.

Counselors and therapists characterize similar behavior as a "king baby," a person who "wants what he wants and when he wants" and has insatiable thirst for control.

It was extraordinary for lawmaker Sochua, a woman in a male-dominated society, to declare at a press conference with her lawyer in April 2009 a defamation lawsuit against autocratic ruler Sen.

That Sen slammed Sochua with a counter-lawsuit for defaming him should have come as no surprise. The courts lacked the fortitude to deal justly with Sochua's suit and Sen ran the woman's lawyer out of court with threats.

The courts ruled that Sochua had until July 15 to pay the fines to Sen, for "mental damage," and fines to the state. Sochua's stance that she would go to jail rather than pay the fines for a crime she has never committed challenged the king baby.

I wrote earlier about the late Khmer pundit Krom Ngoy's advice, "Never to fight a woman." Some may be upset thinking I placed women in an "inferior" role, but I see a "woman" as one's grandmother, mother, wife, daughter, granddaughter, one's own flesh and blood -- to be adored.

It must be a source of considerable frustration to Sen that Sochua never wavered from her stance: She has rights. But not even Sochua herself believed she would not be behind bars after July 15. Her husband had nudged her to pack a bag before Sen's police showed up.

Sochua's crisis gave life to a Cambodian women's grassroots network. The group raised funds to support one they view as a women's rights icon. The group asked Sochua's consent for it to pay the fines to keep her out of jail. No payment, replied Sochua.

The network grew into a movement, and it broke Khmer women's silence. A petition inside and outside the country calling for more rights from the Sen regime picked up speed. Fundraising brought money for the movement's activities to further promote women's rights and freedom of expression.

Washington invited Sochua to join in the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Cambodia relations.

It would take a regime in deep denial not to see what's happening. I wrote the societal tipping point described by Malcolm Gladwell might be in the making in Cambodia, and Sochua might just be Gladwell's "right kind of impetus" to the tipping point -- her cause is contagious. You don't need a July 14 storming of the Bastille to create big effects.

The sight of Sen's ruthless police arresting Sochua would have unleashed a series of reactions.

A tipping point is an action that leads to a door that opens many other doors. In Niccolo Machiavelli's words, "One change leaves the way open for the introduction of others."

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy chooses to remain in Paris facing Sen's jail threat; Sochua says she hates jail, but will fight those trampling her rights.

No king baby would find a woman's refusal to submit tolerable. His ego must be assuaged by a victim's suffering.

On July 15, Municipal Court Judge Chea Sok Heang wrote prosecutor Sok Roeun to ask the national assembly to impound Sochua's salary (as requested by Sen's lawyer, Ky Tech) to pay about $2,000 in compensation to Sen for causing mental damage.

On July 16, Roeun wrote Sochua that her "detention by force" was postponed; she needed time to compensate Sen. Both letters are available on the Internet.
Impounding Sochua's parliamentary salary ought to satisfy Sen's ego -- if Sochua agreed.

She doesn't. She said, "I do not agree to have my salary impounded. ... If my salary is taken without my agreement, it's a violation of my rights."

On July 16, Sochua told a press conference: "Today I would like to declare war, ... as a democrat, against the loss of morality and justice. I would like to tell people that the CPP must be held accountable before the nation."

And she thanked her financial contributors, but, no, she couldn't accept their funds to help pay the fines.

"Let the court take action," she said.

As Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said, "The police are waiting for the court's citation." Sochua's statement: "The Cambodian People Deserve an Independent Judiciary," reads: "I wish to make it clear that the decision of the Courts (to dock her salary), if carried out, will be against my will."

On July 19, the Phnom Penh Post reported CPP senior lawmaker Cheam Yeap, head of the national assembly's finance and banking commission, said the assembly may not be able to dock Sochua's salary without her consent. She could sue the assembly.

On July 20, the court ordered the national assembly's finance director to impound Sochua's salary.

Meanwhile Sochua told the nation that the "struggle for an independent judiciary begins now. ... Let's get to work!"

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at


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