To vote or not to vote. For many of Cambodia’s saffron-robed Buddhist monks, it’s a difficult question. On one hand, activism among monks has a long tradition, from helping create a strong Khmer national identity during colonial rule, to leading the drive for independence in the 20th century, to protesting with the urban and rural poor in their land rights battles. On the other hand, as one of Cambodia’s top monks, Tep Vong has repeatedly said that monks should be a neutral force in an effort to protect the national religion’s hallowed image. At Wat Langka, one of Phnom Penh’s oldest pagodas, near Independence Monument, a respected veteran monk said he had never voted in his birth country.
At first, Yos Hut said it was not a monk’s place to participate in election activities. Later in the conversation, however, he admitted that he had voted in France, where he also holds citizenship, because it was simple compared to the “very complicated” process in Cambodia.
“I encourage monks to teach people about these things, but I don’t oppose monks voting,” he said. “Monks have the role of teacher—they must teach everyone about politics, economics, and so on.” Then he added: “Teach them to practice democracy.”