Cambodia: The Year of the Change

It was July 2013. Cambodian people occupied the streets of Phnom Penh shouting “Change or Not Change” as the leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, returned to Cambodia from four years of self-exile after receiving a Royal Pardon. The fight between the two main political parties started; the elections, as everyone had expected, were won by the ruling party, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. But allegations of election irregularities, including fraud in the electoral lists, were stronger than ever.

Cambodia has been living for many years in silence, under the thick shadow of a genocide, still waiting for justice; hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted from their homes in the name of progress, and still a third of the country lives with less than a dollar per day. The elections, and the gains made by the opposition, had left many hoping that this would change. 

In the aftermath of the elections, tens of thousands of people began to march on the streets demanding justice. Garment workers, land rights activists, Buddhist monks, and young people just wishing for a better future, rallied on the streets, facing extreme violence at the hands of the Cambodian security forces. They have been beaten, arrested, injured, and killed, but yet nothing has stopped the population of this country from showing that the fear that dominated their lives for years finally had disappeared.

One year later, the two main opposition parties have finally signed an agreement that put an end to a year-long political deadlock that had left Cambodia on the verge of a serious crisis. But while many had hoped that this agreement would provide light to those living in the dark for more than 30 years, Cambodia is still looking for justice, justice for those killed over the past year, justice for those ignored, justice to have an opportunity to live decently.

And while the politicians will take credit for ending this political deadlock, the past year has shown that Cambodian people are now ready to demand change. As Nelson Mandela said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but who conquers that fear”. Cambodian people have conquered the fear that stopped them for many years from seeking a better life. 

Over the last year, people have started to reclaim change, a change that only the people of Cambodia can achieve; a change that is far from a hand shake signalling an agreement between politicians; a change that will keep Cambodian people fighting for their future, for their rights, for a living.

Photography: ©Omar Havana. All Rights Reserved