I met a taxi driver in Cambodia who has two kids and is trying to make a better life for himself. He says he understands the current government is controlling, censoring, corrupt and dangerous. While is dislikes the tactics of the government, he also appreciates that the country has stabilized; he can have bread on the table for his children and a roof over their heads. He wants to see his children go to university. He would like to open a small business. He worries very much about controlling his expenses so he can save, and he now believes he’ll need to borrow money from the bank, because saving the money will take too long.
He told me the story of the single chop stick versus many chop sticks that are bundled together (much stronger) as a symbol for Cambodian unity. “United, we can build Angkor Wat!” This was a sentiment I encountered more than once while visiting Cambodia. While this is a proud statement, it is perhaps also naive as the government controls the resources (money, land, political will) that would enable the people to achieve anything more than abject poverty. But the people see life is better now than it was under war, and they are wary of further conflict.
While ‘better’ is not necessarily ‘good’, for many Cambodians stability feels more important than personal freedom. So the status quo persists, at least for now.