Kem Ley’s Last Journey

The Khmer Times, 25 July 2016

Confucius once said: “Gentlemen of morality and learning will always encounter hardships, but they persevere; men of low character always crumble when faced with difficulties.”

The late Kem Ley was one of the most prominent Cambodian public intellectuals and political analysts, daring to speak the truth, inspiring many young researchers and commentators. He was truly a legendary political critic – a daring, sharing and caring public intellectual.
Some have called him a “national hero” or a “fighter for the freedom of expression.” Some have called his death an awakening force. His intellectual wisdom and inspirations have spread across the realms of the Kingdom.
Dr. Kem was also an advocate for social justice. There is no peace without justice.
His ideas resonated well with the concerns and pressing issues society is facing. His critical mind tackled the social, development and political issues in the country. He informed policymakers and other stakeholders on the diagnosis that required serious treatment or/and urgent operation.
Ten of thousands of mourners from all walks of life have paid their last respects to him and hundred of thousands of mourners attended his funeral procession from the capital Phnom Penh to his hometown in Takeo province after 14 days of religious rites at the capital’s Wat Chas.
While his thoughts had far-flung impacts on social and political changes, his leadership style deserved attention too.
Leadership is about who you are and what you are really passionate about. He wished to see reforms and positive change in the Kingdom through constructive policy debates and discussions.
From a very humble background, the late Dr. Kem struggled to obtain scholarships to pursue his post-graduate degrees in Thailand and Malaysia, majoring in public health and social sciences. He had worked at various institutions before becoming a freelance consultant and a well-known political and social analyst.

He believed in a bottom-up approach and people-friendly policy formulation. He enjoyed talking with young people about the importance of building a strong community and a vibrant society where youth are actively engaged in public politics to hold the government accountable.
Dr. Kem lived his life with a purpose and a vision. He knew that his words and acts would bring him danger, but his firm and unswerving vision and mission kept him going. His well-known phrase “wipe your tears and continue your journey” has become the source of motivation for many.
A great leader also needs to be a sincere public servant. Dr. Kem devoted his life to serving the public interest through conducting research on social and development issues, promoting policy and public dialogue and debate, and raising public awareness.
He had always put common social interests first and had become actively involved in social work.
A leader needs to be equipped with a capacity to change. He believed that change was a constant process needed to improve a society.
A leader needs to have the capacity to adapt and adjust to change. Reforms are necessary to keep pace with social and economic changes and transformations. The widening gap between state and society threatens sustainable peace and development.
The classic book of change in China posits that the universe is a realm of perpetual activity. It argues that “change has neither thought nor action, because it is in the state of absolute quiet and inactivity, and when acted on, it immediately penetrates all things.”
A leader must recognize and appreciate facts. Ignorance or neglect of facts leads to a disaster. He believes that scientific and objective research are the foundations for having the right policy agenda and action plan.
Dr. Ley’s working experiences and international exposure at different institutions – in the public sector, with NGOs and international organizations – had also shaped and enriched his leadership skills and intellectual wisdom.
He had advocated an evidence-based policy formulation. Public-private-people partnerships and transparency and accountability were the foundations of sustainable development, he said.
He also said a leader must earn respect. He believed that a good leader is a leader who is embedded with human dignity, integrity, and respect. Earning people’s respect and winning people’s hearts should be the core objective and mission of a leader, was his message.

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