‘Bunong’ Insult Starts Parliamentary Debate Over Semantics
By | November 18, 2012

What was supposed to be a National Assembly debate on air transport in the Asean community quickly degenerated into a heated argument over semantics.

On Wednesday, CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun called an opposition parliamentarian “a Bunong”—literally an ethnic minority found in Mondolkiri province, but also used in the Khmer language as a derogatory term meaning “savage” or “primitive.”

The slight resulted in 20 opposition lawmakers staging a walkout.

On Thursday, Mr. Vun attempted to defend the language he had used in Parliament to again berate Human Right’s Party (HRP) President Kem Sokha, claiming that Mr. Sokha’s interpretation of the word as a racist slur was incorrect.

“Some politicians have imbued this word with the wrong meaning, to upset people in northeastern Cambodia,” Mr. Vun told the assembled members of Parliament.

“The opposition should stop misinterpreting my words as referring to indigenous people,” Mr. Vun said.

Bunong and indigenous people were not one and the same, Mr. Vun maintained, claiming that the ethnic minority was no longer referred to as Bunong, which is an antiquated term.

According to the “Chuon Nath Khmer Dictionary,” Bunong referred to people who “did not respect the law” or were homeless, Mr. Vun said.

“The people in the Northeast are called indigenous. You should not call them Bunong,” he said, adding: “You must be careful using that word.”

While Mr. Sokha was absent from the National Assembly, SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann took the floor to object to Mr. Vun’s attempts to redirect the blame at the opposition.

“What you’ve said isn’t true,” Mr. Sovann said to Mr. Vun. “That is not the dictionary definition of Bunong. You said that word.”

During the debate on Wednesday, Mr. Sokha had addressed the assembly to condemn the government’s human rights record.

Mr. Vun had then taken to the floor and attacked Mr. Sokha, saying: “What Mr. Sokha said; he is like a Bunong or an uneducated person and it is unacceptable.”

Following Mr. Vun’s comments, members of the HRP and SRP walked out of the National Assembly in protest.

© 2012 – 2013, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

LATEST

The cabinet of Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday accepted a petition from villagers from Kratie province’s Snuol district who are requesting intervention in a land dispute with a plantation owner.

Environment Minister Say Sam Al on Wednesday lauded the country’s controversial sugar industry and the jobs it has created, saying that companies operating in the sector need to be defended against the widespread criticism they have been receiving.

As the international community on Wednesday lauded the opposition CNRP’s agreement with the ruling CPP to take its seats in the National Assembly, some of the opposition’s most outspoken allies talked of treachery from a party that months ago was demanding a re-election or the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In the aftermath of the covenant struck between Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy on Tuesday, the opposition was fast to frame the deal as a grudging and rare concession from an authoritarian party deeply protective of its power.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was banned from running in last year’s national election, will now be sworn in as one of the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers, with Kompong Cham province lawmaker-elect Kuoy Bunroeun standing down to become an opposition member on the new bipartisan electoral commission.

The Cambodia Daily | All the News Without Fear or Favor | The Daily Newspaper of Record Since 1993