The lamps go out in Cambodia

A friend writes in Foreign Policy Journal:

The End of Nominal Democracy in Cambodia

By Antonio Graceffo | Sep 15, 2017

Until recently, most Cambodia observers would have tentatively applied the term “democracy” to the country’s political system. While general elections are held every five years, the ruling party always wins. Effectively, the country has been a one-party system since 1979, and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been documented as using manipulation and bully tactics (including murder), to maintain its firm grip on power.[1]

Problem is, the opposition party started making serious gains in the 2013 general elections and then in the 2017 local elections. And that wouldn’t do at all:

However, unwilling to relinquish the CPP’s grip on power, Hun Sen in late August 2017 began an intense campaign of clamping down on Cambodia’s nominal democracy.

To this end, Prime Minister Hun Sen has begun restricting freedom of speech and quelling potential voices of opposition. The opposition leader, Kem Sokha was arrested for treason in late August, with the CPP accusing him of participating in a US backed plot to overthrow the government.[7] […]

The Cambodian Daily, one of two major English language newspapers, that was renowned for its excellent coverage of the country’s political situation, has been shut down under accusations of tax evasion.[9]

(More on the closing of The Cambodia Daily here.)

Additionally, the Information Ministry has closed down 19 radio stations, including Voice of Democracy (VOD), Voice of America (VOA), and Radio Free Asia (RFA). The Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan has accused VOD director Pa Nguon Teang of being a foreign agent.[10] Additionally, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation ordered the closure of the US backed National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the expulsion of its staff.[11]

In just over a week, Graceffo writes, “Hun Sen’s government has set Cambodian democracy back decades and cemented the CPP as the dominant force of Cambodian politics.”

And the bruised, staggering “end of history” thesis takes another solid punch in the mouth.

Saturday links

Murderous Manila: On the Night Shift (part one of a series on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte):

If, in what I had come across going out on the night shift, there was anything that had probably met the aspirations of those who had voted for Duterte as president in May, it was these two scenes. For Duterte was and is very popular, and his drug war is popular too, for the moment. People like the drug war, but they are not entirely at ease with it. They do not think that the victims of that war should die (although that is a defining characteristic of the war so far). On the other hand, when there is somebody particularly antisocial, as in the two cases above, they are prepared to say: “He deserved it.”

In a survey by Social Weather Stations, 69 percent of those polled thought the incidence of EJKs was either very or somewhat serious. Only 3 percent thought it not serious at all. As to whether they believed that police were telling the truth that the suspects they killed in buy-bust operations had really resisted arrest, doubters and believers were evenly split, with 28 percent saying the police were definitely or probably telling the truth, and 29 percent saying they were definitely or probably not doing so. Overwhelmingly, however, 88 percent agreed, strongly or somewhat, that since Duterte became president, there has been a decrease in drug problems in their area. And that is the perception that appears to have trumped all others.

Part two of the series:

Looked at now, however, in the era of a thousand killings a month, the murder of [opposition leader Ninoy Aquino] seems to belong to a society in some respects more refined than that ushered in by the election of Rodrigo Duterte as president in 2016. Martial law under Marcos lasted from 1972 to 1981. Over three thousand people were killed, many of them cases of “salvagings”—bodies found tortured and mutilated, dumped at the roadside, much like the victims of today’s EJKs—extrajudicial killings—only far fewer of them, of course. Indeed, twice as many have been killed during Duterte’s first six months, starting last June, as in the decade of martial law.

Still, in the case of Ninoy, a certain lip service was paid to due process. An alibi was carefully prepared. Ninoy was warned against returning to the Philippines—warned by one of Marcos’s top men that he faced the risk of assassination. And an assassin was found and sacrificed, as it were, at the scene of the crime. When the postmortem contradicted the official story, an alternative postmortem was sought and found. There was some sense lingering in Marcos’s circle of what a respectable outcome would look like, even if respectability was not achieved.

China fact of the day:

Mortality rates among Chinese men aged 41 to 60, who account for nearly three-quarters of the working-age population, increased by 12% over the decade through 2013, the most recent data available. This was even as mortality rates generally improved across other age groups and genders.

You’re a Completely Different Person at 14 and 77 Years Old, Personality Study Suggests:

As a result of this gradual change, personality can appear relatively stable over short intervals – increasingly so throughout adulthood. However, the longer the interval between two assessments of personality, the weaker the relationship between the two tends to be.

Our results suggest that, when the interval is increased to as much as 63 years, there is hardly any relationship at all.

Reddit is Being Manipulated By Big Financial Services Companies:

In December last year, I managed to place two entirely fake news stories onto influential subreddits – with millions of subscribers – and vote them to the top with fake accounts and fake upvotes for less than $200. It was simple, cheap and effective.

What I hadn’t realised at the time was how widespread this shilling issue was. Professional marketing agencies, with offices in several different countries, offer these services often under the guise of “reputation management.” They don’t specifically talk about manipulating conversations online, instead using coded, dog whistle language like “targeted techniques” and “competitor slander.”

I Ignored Trump News for a Week. Here’s What I Learned:

But as the week wore on, I discovered several truths about our digital media ecosystem. Coverage of Mr. Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever. The reasons have as much to do with him as the way social media amplifies every big story until it swallows the world. And as important as covering the president may be, I began to wonder if we were overdosing on Trump news, to the exclusion of everything else.

The new president doesn’t simply dominate national and political news. During my week of attempted Trump abstinence, I noticed something deeper: He has taken up semipermanent residence on every outlet of any kind, political or not. He is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow.