“We have no choice”: on compulsory evictions and elections in Cambodia

Voters gather round a noticeboard in Phnom Penh. Image: Getty.

“We have to go, we have no choice,” says the young woman. “They are watching me.”

It is end of July and election-day in Cambodia, and out of fear of repercussions, she will go to vote – despite the fact that, the main opposition party having been dissolved, she has no party left for her to support.

The woman, who requested to remain anonymous, stands next to her apartment building in Borei Keila, situated at the heart of the kingdom’s capital Phnom Penh. But it’s an apartment that might exist not much longer.

Borei Keila is one of the longest-standing land-disputes in the country, with company Phanimex laying claim to the lands of hundreds of families. Since the beginning of the dispute more than ten years ago, indeed, hundreds of families have been evicted or accepted compensation. The woman is one of a handful of people left at the site, holding out in hope of receiving adequate compensation.

Over the past few weeks, the Cambodia government has threatened legal actions against those who openly boycotted the vote. This comes after the authorities arrested the opposition leader Kem Sokha, and the Supreme Court dissolved his party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, at the end of last year.

Seemingly trying to uphold some legitimacy, the government urged people to vote: a low turnout would show the disillusion many voters felt since the dissolution of the CNRP, which won more than 40 per cent of the popular vote in last year’s commune elections.

In the lead-up to the elections, more than 30 news outlets were forced to shut down or taken off air, critical voices arrested, and 118 opposition members banned from politics for five years.

Afraid she will be denied compensation, so as to punish her as a non-voter, the woman is on her way to vote, so that she can show her finger, darkened by indelible ink, for the next few days.  “If I don’t go, I will have pressure,” she says. “I feel quite terrible. This is not what I want to do.”


Despite feeling forced to vote, the woman says she might quietly show her discontent by invalidating her ballot sheet.

A floor down, her neighbor Ming chose a different kind of protest and speaks openly about boycotting the elections. “I think there is no democracy. That’s why I don’t go to vote. There is no party I love, no one I’m satisfied with,” she says.  Ming says going to vote won’t make a difference to her case. “If I vote for them they will still put pressure on me. If I go to vote, they will still evict me.”

Community leader Sar Sorn agrees. “I don’t go to vote because the party I love doesn’t exist anymore, because today’s leadership is destruction. They destroy the nation, they destroy resources, they violate people’s rights, they make people unemployed, and they evict people,” she says.

Her boycott didn’t go unnoticed, however: authorities were monitoring her, Sorn says. That morning, she recounts, she had heard a security personnel saying into his walkie-talkie that she was on her way to the polling station. But she only went there to see how many people showed up, and when she left the school-turned-polling-station, she was followed again. “Wherever I go, I’m monitored,” she says.

Further up north in Boeung Kak area, another woman tells CityMetric how the fear of losing her land might push her to vote. She strongly opposes the government – but says she hasn’t made up her mind yet whether she’ll make her way to the polling station nearby before it closes at 3 pm.

“I will see at 2 or 2:30 pm whether I want to vote,” she says.  “I feel sad and I don’t know what to do. One heart wants to go to vote, one heart does not want to. If I go to vote, it’s equivalent to supporting the Prime Minister and supporting him treating people badly.”

She has also found herself in a land-dispute for several years. The Boeung Kak community used to live around a 90-hectare lake in the north of Phnom Penh. But when Shukaku Inc., the real estate developer owned by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin, came in in 2007 and filled it in, many saw their houses flooded or destroyed; others were evicted.  Protests turned violent; several activists were arrested.

Tep Vanny, a prominent and award-winning human rights defender from the community, has been in jail for two years based on charges that rights groups say were political.

One woman in her mid-fifties, who also requested to remain anonymous due to fears of repercussions, tells me that she has only been offered a land title for half of the land she is entitled to. She did not receive any compensation when her house was flooded.

 “If I don’t go to vote, they will not give me the land title and accuse me of wrongdoings,” she says. She is also afraid of not receiving public services from the municipality anymore – of being blacklisted if she doesn’t show up at the polling station.

But like Borei Keila residents, she says she will not vote for the ruling party. “Maybe I will leave the ballot blank,” she says.

Later that day, the National Election Committee (NEC) announces turnout. In Phnom Penh, the preliminary turnout grows from 58.4 percent in the morning to 69.7 percent in the afternoon, to a final count of 80.0 percent in the evening – this despite reports of empty polling stations from observers and journalists all afternoon. The same day the ruling party declares a landslide victory; in the coming days, it announces having won all 125 parliamentary seats.

For the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila residents, this was a predictable . “It’s like a single-boxing game,” says Sar Sorn. “A sportsman is hitting alone.”

 
 
 
 

What would a fairer version of the TfL fare zones look like?

An extract from the current London Tube & Rail Map. Image: TfL.

 Recently, the internet website CityMetric investigated Andrew Adonis’s claim that there was a strong case to move East & West Croydon up a TfL transport zone, from 5 to 4. It concluded that, based on distance from Charing Cross, there wasn’t an overwhelming reason to do so.

But, as noted in the original piece, measurements from Charing Cross might not be the best way to structure London’s transport zones. In fact, look at the map, and it clearly isn’t the measure Transport for London uses. 

Here’s the actual geography of Zones 1-6. For the purposes of this exercise stations straddling two zones are considered to be in the lower, that is, the more central, of the two.

For a start, you can see that the zones are wider than they are long, so stations in the east or west tend to be in more central zones than stations a similar distance away in the north or south. This makes a certain amount of sense given that ‘central London’, as defined by Zone 1, isn’t a circle.

At any rate: the other zones clearly aren’t defined by their distance from Zone 1. Lewisham, which is in Zone 2 and 3, is the furthest Zone 2 station from any zone 1 station – 4.1 miles from the closest, Tower Gateway, as the crow flies. But Clapton station, in Zone 3, is only 2.2 miles from a Zone 1 station (Hoxton). What’s up with that?


More concerning than that is the totally ludicrous situation going on in the north east where Zone 4 appears to be trying to escape by eating its way through Zone 5 and a good chunk of Zone 6. And frankly, given that it’s Fairlop Loop, good luck and good riddance.

Out on the fringes of the network, the furthest Zone 6 station is Knockholt, a massive 14.2 miles away from Zone 1 – but Waltham Cross, only 10 miles outside Zone 1, is relegated to the weird outer zones.

(There is a sort of sensible reason for this one: Knockholt station, despite for arcane reasons being named after a village in Kent 3 miles away, is itself just inside the London border, whereas Waltham Cross is in Hertfordshire.)

So what should a geographically fair zone system look like? 

Let’s assume that:

  1. The current boundaries of Central London/Zone 1 are correct;

  2. The boundaries of the other zones should be formed by drawing a ‘buffer’ around zone 1 the distance of the current furthest station in the zone from its closest zone 1 station;

  3. Again, for stations in multiple zones only the most central has been considered.

Now, these are all potentially dubious assumptions (for a start, if we’re redrawing the zone boundaries there’s some stuff in Kensington & Chelsea that I think has a dubious claim to being ‘central’, when, say, Whitechapel is in Zone 2). But let’s go with them, assume this method of ‘Geographical Fairness’ is a good way to run a transport system, and redraw the map.

  

I’ve retained the colours of the station dots from the ‘real’ zone map so you can see broadly speaking see how this changes things: only small chunks like the one directly east of the centre roughly match up with the current state of affairs. All the zones have expanded; in some places stations that were in Zone 6 are in now in Zone 4.

If we take a closer look at south London, all three Croydon stations have been bumped up to Zone 4 status, as Lord Adonis believes they should.

Meanwhile, for Lord Elledge, Kingston has jumped two entire zones, joining Croydon in Zone 4 (which now stretches 9.2 miles from the centre of town, thanks to Grange Hill on the accursed Fairlop Loop.)

On the other hand, can we really stomach a London in which Chiswick is in Zone 2?

Here’s the full labelled map if you want to find out in which Zone your favourite station will end up if this new Geographical Distance fairness scheme is implemented due to some kind of error. Right click and open it in a new window to get a good look.