Ou Chanrath has said that the hostile welcome granted him by his fellow Cambodians recently in South Korea showed that the hearts of supposedly democratic people remain closed and that the mindset of smearing one another resembled that of the Khmer Rouge era.
Last week Chanrath, a former member of the National Assembly for Takeo province, and Chiv Cata, another former opposition parliamentarian, travelled to a pro-democracy gathering in South Korea at the invitation of the Asian Human Rights Peace Forum.
Chanrath and Cata are former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers. They were two of the 118 senior CNRP officials banned from all political activity for five years following the dissolution of the party by the Supreme Court in November 2017.
Ou Chanrath was recently granted political rehabilitation and Cata has submitted a similar request.
After arriving in South Korea, Chanrath decided not to attend the forum or the candlelight demonstrations held by CNRP supporters because he said he was not welcomed by CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua or party supporters, and they went as far as using insulting words against him.
“It was beyond my expectations and it was a good experience for me – to see that the pro-democratic camp is not really pro-democracy.
“A lot of words were used, but their hearts are yet to open as democratic people – the same goes for the leadership.
“There was a chorus from a small number of [Cambodian] workers in [South Korea] who are activists – but knowledge is still at a low level. There were some uneducated words used against me,” Chanrath told The Post on Wednesday.
‘Not truly pro-democratic’
In an interview with Radio Free Asia on April 19, Sochua said she did not welcome Chanrath because he was not truly pro-democratic.
“Pro-democratic people have never, under any circumstances, walked away from pro-democratic people who are suffering like our president Kem Sokha.
“We cannot ask to walk out for a moment to see the state outside. Pro-democratic people have to stick together, especially when democracy is falling apart as it is today,” she said.
Chanrath said Sochua’s voice was broadcast on the bus he was boarding, and participants slow hand-clapped and made it clear he was not welcome.
“It is pitiful for the followers who have been led astray, unable to open their hearts wide to acquire knowledge.
“They are just following the crowd. The leader says something, they do it. In the evening I saw that [CNRP] acting president Sam Rainsy feels no shame. A leader should not behave like an activist,” Chanrath said.
He said the experience has made him clearly understand the mentality of Cambodian society, and how such a mindset should be changed.
“If Cambodians still have such a mindset, and still smear each other, it is no different from the Khmer Rouge era.
“[The Khmer Rouge] promoted those who had little knowledge, with a low level of culture, and became more aggressive in their management.
“And then came the killings. Such a culture should be avoided and, as pro-democratic people, they need to change their thinking.
“Buddhists should not tolerate this. The leaders especially should learn from these lessons,” Chanrath said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the acts committed against Chanrath did not benefit opposition supporters. On the contrary, he said, it had undermined the credibility of what they claimed to be democratic.
“To become a true democracy, people must be patient, have open minds and respect the rights and freedom of others to participate,” he said.