Phnom Penh Politics: History and Present
20 July, 2013
Did you know that I am a politics and current affairs high school teacher as well a travel lover? When spending time in a country, I’m always keen to investigate their political systems and how locals participate. We were very lucky to be in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) during election week which gave us the opportunity to discuss Phnom Penh politics with locals and tour guides. The streets were electric with people tooting their mopeds and tuk – turks, using megaphones to shout CHANGE. These were the NRP supporters looking to gain support to vote out the CPP who had been in power since 1985 (just after Pol Pot’s regime).
It’s time for ‘change’
Cambodian Election – Phnom Penh Politics
This tuk – tuk driver holds up fingers to represent the number 7, which is the number that the NRP represents on the ballot form. He told us that his family have always campaigned but when he was younger they heard a gun shot in his back garden. The CPP then called the house to say that they were responsible, they insisted that his Dad stopped campaigning for the NRP and vote for the CPP, terrifying.
Our driver says now people feel that they can show their political support for the NRP in the open – democracy may be changing! One of the leaders of the NRP was sent to exile and while we were in Phnom Penh, the $1 million dollar bail money was accepted. It really was a pretty awesome experience, although not everyone felt they could talk in the open about politics, such as our tour guide at S21.
The Killing Fields and S21
S21 is one of the areas where Cambodia’s ex dictator, Pol Pot killed many of his victims. The ex – high school is now a walk – through museum, I’d recommend taking a guided tour like we did to get insider knowledge of the torture faced by thousands on this plot of land.
Our guide was studying law but said he could never be a lawyer in Cambodia, there was no point. It was too corrupt. He asked us not to talk about the election or Phnom Penh politics with him as he was fearful of who was listening. Nonetheless, he took us around the building and discussed the torture implements used on the ‘intelligent city people’. One that will alert you is the use of scorpions on prisoners, they used them to nip at prisoner’s nipples until they confessed that they were trying to overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime.
A visit to S21 and The Killing Fields are one of the top things to do in Phnom Penh, even if you are not a fan of history.
Once a confession was made prisoners were driven out to the Killing Fields, about 45 minutes away, along a dusty road. You can pay a tuk – tuk driver to take you (he will wait on your return), buy a face mask before you ride. The Killing Fields are now an open museum where you tune into an audio story of the events that happened there and survivor’s stories.
How can one human to this to another?
It’s very harrowing. In monsoon weather bones are still washed up in the area. Bullets weren’t wasted on these prisoners – their heads were chopped off and bodies left to fall into mass graves. What’s just as tough to process as the fact that the Rouge also killed children and babies working from the philosophy – “when you dig up the grass, you must remove even the roots.” If this type of history fascinates you too, check out our post on the 90s war – torn Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Killing Tree – this is where babies were killed
A sombre post, I know. But we really did love Phnom Penh, so much so we extended our stay. The Frangipani Arts and Living Hotel was one of the main reasons we stayed longer, there was actually visible sun for a couple of days and not just typical overcast Asian weather. The other factor was the people, we learned a lot because Cambodians are so friendly. For example, at the airport a family asked us if we wanted to try some traditional cake, we tried it and attempted to swallow politely, this kindness sums up Phnom Penh!