Economics, Commons, and Political news from Cambodia

Chea Mony has been giving more interviews lately, mostly surrounding the intended savaging of the minimum wage for nighttime work, which the government and business want to slash from 200% to 130%. He did an interview on VOA here. But news about Cambodia’s commons, or what Benjamin Dangl refers to as the Price of Fire, is also in the cards. Julia Watson, a food writer, included a few of Cambodia’s more horrifying statistics in a short article she wrote recently. While I don’t like reverse osmosis water either, however, I don’t agree with her that it tastes vaguely of sewage – I think she might have received some of the fake-filtered water that used to be more commonly sold than currently. And while the statistics are awful (1/8 die before reaching fifth birthday, for instance), I’m grateful that at least she doesn’t portray the Cambodians as passive victims. She includes her obligatory recipe at the bottom of the article, and instead of a food recipe, it’s an indigenous recipe (really, just limes preserved with heat and salt) intended to soothe stomach cramps.

And while most rural Cambodians have to worry about where they’re going to get enough clean water every day, the CPP has revived an ancient loyalty-oath ritual in Siem Reap province. I’m actually currently writing about related issues, so the timing is funny to me, though the event itself is not. The CPP is displeased by the fact that supposedly ‘CPP’ villages (villages in which the chief has promised to deliver the votes of the majority or even the totality of the village), which receive aid by virtue of their affiliation with the CPP, have been voting less fully for the ‘correct’ candidate than expected. As a result, the chiefs are administering the water-drinking loyalty oath.

This oath used to be a royal oath of loyalty. Water from all the different provinces of Cambodia were brought to the palace of the emperor, by the regional leaders. The water was mixed together, and then distributed to each of the regional leaders, who swore loyalty to the emperor while drinking the water (a bit of clever state symbolism there, with the mixed waters as a result of the homogenous combination of all regions). During the Lon Nol government, Republican soldiers were apparently forced to take this oath as well, and it is reported that on a few occasions a bullet was placed in the bottom of the drinking cup – a reminder of the type of oath sworn (military) and the punishment expected for disloyalty.

Old habits – and symbols of power that have existed for millenia – like water as a symbol for royal power – die hard.


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