Cambodia was promised peace, justice, human rights and a system of liberal democracy, among other things, in the October 1991 Paris Peace Agreements signed by 18 governments (Australia, Brunei, Cambodia – the four warring Cambodian factions – Canada, China, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam), witnessed by representatives of the non-aligned movement, the UN secretary-general and his special representative.

Today,CQ 25 years later, and 23 years after Cambodia’s adoption of a 1993 Constitution stipulated as the “Supreme Law of the Kingdom” that mirrored the PPA’s promises, Prime Minister Hun Sen told the European Union not to “scare and threaten me” with its resolution to review its $461 million in aid to Cambodia, and told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon there would be “no dialogue” with the opposition party as he requested, to ease heightened political tensions.

I am again amazed that this year, as in the past, Cambodian expatriates are busily petitioning PPA signatories to revive the Agreements. But the world has moved on since 1991, and I have not seen any signatory power that has not found it in its interest to engage with the Hun Sen government in the face of the opposition’s insufficient credibility as an alternative. We must remember the adage, “In politics there is no permanent enemy nor permanent friend, only permanent interest.”

Today, as more Cambodians have become publicly fearless in demanding a change to the status quo, Hun Sen, initially installed as Cambodia’s prime minister by Vietnam’s invading troops in 1985, declared he has no plans to leave office. Yet, he knows in free and fair elections voters would not re-elect him to another term. He must harbor some desire to improve on the legacy he will leave to posterity.

A young Khmer blogger and cofounder of “Politikoffee,” a platform for weekly youth debate and discussion on politics and other issues, Ou Ritthy, warned that as the people ramp up their demands for more just, equitable, and transparent electoral processes for the June 2017 commune elections and the July 2018 general elections, they are likely to rise up against Hun Sen’s tactics to disrupt and break up the opposition party. A “big confrontation will happen.”

But Ritthy thinks that potentially violent protests can be avoided by Cambodia’s King Sihamoni, opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, and the international community working together for a peaceful “transfer of power.” Ritthy’s call aligns with my plea long ago to strategize Hun Sen’s political exit with face-saving. In a powerful assertion, Ritthy told me that the “Khmer problem” is not any external actor, but the Khmer themselves. He urged Khmer to do some serious soul searching.

I believe there is no problem without a solution; that imaginative, creative, persistent actions yield productive results. I like Lord Buddha’s preaching: “We are what we think… With our thought we make the world.” While a Western observer of Khmer politics lamented that Khmer cannot seem to rid themselves of their “dependency syndrome,” Ou Ritthy advises: “Stop crying for help and pointing fingers at others while we Khmer keep fighting one another in our own home.”

Half a decade ago, I wrote that the UN and the PPA signatory governments can’t change Cambodia. Only Cambodians can bring about the change they want to see.

This article was originally released for publication by the Pacific Daily News
June 19, 2016