My dear Kacvey,

What a Friday 2 December 2016 in the City of Tonlé Buon Mouk! A day to remember for a long time to come, whether it will have good or bad consequences for the future of Khmer Politics.

By now the excitement has already subsided but each headquarters is undoubtedly busy to figure out what would be the next move by the other party. This doesn’t have the same thrill of the 2016 World Chess Championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergei Karyakin on Wednesday 30 November 2016, but the surprise factor was so great that, exceptionally, the local media had to go out of the way to put the news online not to be outdone by social media.

For records, the Associated Press carried a breaking news that came out of the clear blue sky on 2 December 2016 that: HUN SEN STIRS POLITICAL POT WITH PARDON FOR DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER.

So, Kacvey, you must have already read or heard tons of comments by radio/TV stations, newspapers, social media, pundits, politicians, spinners and even some ordinary men and women. But, for our part, let turn over a few stones with these questions:
– Why the royal pardon on 2 December 2016?
– Where does the pardon lead to?
– Is the pardon an end of itself, or just a temporary arrangement to serve the cause of expediency?
– Whose victory is this, if victory there is?

Since the story of “infidelity” and its dramatic and sad aftermath broke out, you certainly remember the contents of some previous letters mainly: “Man-made Quagmire and its Unintended Consequences” of 6 June 2016, “War of Words – Part III” of 4 July 2016 and “Emile Zola: “J’accuse” (“I accuse”)” of 14 August 2016.

Why the royal pardon?

From the communications between the deputy opposition leader, the prime minister and the king, it could be discerned that there is nothing that could shed the light on the constitutional and legal rationale/reason/justification that support the case for the request for royal pardon.

Primo, the deputy opposition leader, in his letter of 1 December 2016, hoped that  the prime minster has diligently pondered on his court case. Secundo, on 2 December 2016, the prime minister submitted a request for royal pardon to the king with a prepared draft of the pardon decree – royal pardon to be granted to the deputy opposition leader who was convicted on 4 November 2016. Tertio, on the same day the king issued a royal decree granting his pardon to the deputy opposition leader. Quarto, also on 2 December 2016, the deputy opposition leader sent thanking letters to the king and the prime minister.

It looked simple, effortless, easy and straightforward. No sweat. But, to believe that it is so, is to underestimate the power of autocracy that’s been in existence for more than 30 years.

In Khmer politics, anything that is easy today will soon be a mess, sometimes when the ink is still wet. Who could forget the statement made at end of June 2016 by the same prime minister that the deputy opposition leader could be “imprisoned forever”? Who could forget the massive mobilization of men in black sunglasses and heavy machine guns around the opposition headquarters, even with light projectors in the night? Why, suddenly, the change of heart?

Beware of the sleeping fox with one eye close.

No one is brainless to think that all of this move and dynamics would have happened without some form of preparation, mutual understanding, behind-the-scenes negotiation and compromise between unnamed go-between/intermediaries/agents or off-the books agreement. It is this secrecy that is, one day, going to be the mysterious weapon that will be used by whoever in a stronger position to turn the situation or to pivot into his favor. Remember the agreement of 22 July 2014? Where is it now? Who is in the ditch? Where is one of the signatories?

In “The Art of Warfare” (兵法), Sunzi (孙子) wrote: “So, to win a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; the highest excellence is to subdue the enemy’s army without fighting at all.” (是故百战百胜, 非善之善者也, 不战而屈人之兵, 善之善者也.)

Where does the pardon lead to?

At the time of this writing, it was widely reported that the deputy opposition leader had left the headquarters of his party and returned to his home and family, and that he is even scheduled to attend the permanent committee of the national assembly on 5 December 2016. So much the better, if he could now fulfill his national responsibility as a member of parliament as well as one of the leaders of his party.

Royal pardon is a license for his recovered and restored freedom. But there are 5 human rights workers who are still paying a very heavy and horrendously unjustified price on his behalf: indefinite pre-trial detention, shackled and orange-jumpsuited. The question is: could these 5 human rights repeat the same procedure in order to seek royal pardon? If a precedent has been already set, why not use it in the name of non-discriminatory equality?

A royal pardon is indeed personal and nominal, but the mechanism that has been used for that particular person must be a mechanism that should be opened to other citizens under similar constitutional, legal and judicial criteria and circumstances. It is a well known fact that the prime minister is the key decision-making/imposing person between the deputy opposition leader and the king; he is the supreme authority in all matters, small or big, legislative, executive and judiciary. But, the people is sovereign to be critical of his subjectivity and partiality in state governance. Or to appreciate his objectivity and fairness.

Francis of Assisi, once, preached: “Where there is injury let me sow pardon.” The 5 human rights workers are still injured – not bodily – with wounds brutally and unlawfully inflicted to them and their family for trying to seek justice and to defend human rights and dignity.

Is the royal pardon an end in itself?

From the text of the royal decree, it could be gleaned that the royal pardon specifically pertained to the crime and subsequent conviction as stated in the tribunal verdict of 4 November 2016. Be it as it may, how will this royal pardon play out with other court cases against the deputy opposition leader that are still pending? There seems to be so many cards hidden in the sleeves of the prime minster who could perform magic trick against whoever that dares challenging/obstructing his power’s scheme. A case in point, the number of court cases against the minority leader looks like a string of prayer beads that prosecutors and judges play around according to their whim and impulse.

Friedrich Nietzsche, once, said: “If there is something to pardon in everything, there is also something to condemn.” When the court condemned, did it do it in accordance with and respect of the spirit of the constitution and the laws of the land? Or did it do it because some one told it to do it?

Whose victory is this?

Could the deputy opposition leader claim victory because at the end of the day he’s been pardoned, royally? Could the prime minister also claim victory for having requested the king to grant pardon to the deputy opposition leader? Who owes whom? Could two  people claim victory in one battle they both engaged in? Where was the challenge for the victors, if victory there is?

If both of them wish to claim victory for themselves, it’s the Cambodian justice system that is the declared real victim/looser.

Don’t weep, Cambodia, because you loose. Get up, recoup and get ready for the next battle.

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Update:
– On 7 December 2016, A breaking news from The Cambodia Daily: “Adhoc Officers, Election Official, Commune Chief to Be Released, CNRP Says.” Let wait and see whether it will be true.
– On 2 September 2017, The New York Times reported: Cambodia Arrests Opposition Leader, Accusing Him of Treason
– On 25 October 2017, Reuters reported: Cambodian opposition member pardoned at PM’s request