Going Viral in Cambodian Cyberspace

Going Viral in Cambodian Cyberspace

Can social media end judicial impunity in Cambodia?


Social media is on the rise in Cambodia, and it may just mark the beginning of the end of the systemic culture of judicial impunity, as well as the long-dysfunctional democratic system.

To shine some context on the matter, social media vigilantes have been busy linking brutal attacks on two lawmakers outside the National Assembly building in late October to military units and Cambodia People’s Party loyalists, specifically the Naga Youth Federation – the  sworn protectors of Prime Minister and CPP leader, Hun Sen, who had earlier been protesting outside the house of Kem Sokha, the Vice President of the Cambodian National Rescue Party.

With many Khmer ‘netizens’ taking to social media to identify more suspects – as there were clearly a large number of protestors – and linking them directly to Hun Sen’s son, Hun Many, it appears that the authorities may be acting in the interests of the people, something rarely seen in Cambodia.

In early November, prosecutors arrested three Cambodian soldiers who turned themselves in for taking part in the attack and announced they would not be looking for any more suspects.  The same prosecutors – who are rarely said to react without being paid – have recently decided to reverse this decision and have announced, based on the circumstantial evidence revealed by the viral video, that they would continue the search for suspects linked to the beating.

Threat to the government?

All of this begs the question, just how much of a threat does social media pose to Hun Sen’s control of the state apparatus that has blessed him with almost uninterrupted rule over the country since 1979?

The short answer, is that it represents perhaps one of the biggest challenges in recent times to the strongman’s rule, and largely serves to discredit his public announcements that there would be civil war if the CNRP won.

Although there doesn’t seem to be any reliable statistics, I did some number crunching based on available resources.  Out of a population of 15 million, a good estimate of the number of Facebook users would suggest that there are somewhere between 1.4 and 1.5 million Cambodian monthly active users, a 12 per cent increase in users between 2014 and 2015.  The vast majority of users are between the ages of 18 and 25, and are increasingly using more affordable mobile devices.

There are three reasons why this huge increase in interest and availability of social media could be the nail in the coffin for Hun Sen.

Firstly, it encourages a new level of trust – all but obliterated under the Khmer Rouge regime – and open discussion among the Cambodian people.  The confident growth of societal stability represents a healthy sign for any peaceful transition of power, which is undoubtedly a key precursor for any stable democratic regime to prevail.

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