Mask-clad students line up to disinfect their hands with an alcohol solution before entering class at a school in Phnom Penh. Cambodia's health ministry reported the country's first case of the deadly coronavirus on Jan. 27. (Photo: AFP)
Cambodia is confronted by three pressing issues. Two — the treason trial of opposition leader Kem Sokha and the potential withdrawal of European trade preferences — are of the government’s own making and could hurt the country substantially. The third — the coronavirus — was obviously not Phnom Penh’s fault but its reaction and impact could be far more devastating given Cambodia’s political and financial dependency on China.
It’s a nasty recipe for a country mired by poverty, an ever-widening wealth gap and a social discontent incapable of self-expression ever since independent media, NGOs and opposition politicians were effectively banished during the lead-up to the 2018 election.
At stake is not just the paltry standard of living that ordinary Cambodians are forced to accept but also the profit margins enjoyed by the businessmen who made money — and lots of it — through their connections with the ruling elites.