Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Cambodia: Challenges of Democratic Consolidation

The two leaders from CPP and CNRP had a meeting on 16 September 2013. 

The political crisis caused by Arab Spring in some countries in the Middle East, civil war in Syria, the recent political unrest in Ukraine, and turmoil in Thalaind, could serve as an obvious example of unwanted consequences of drastic political change for other countries to avoid.

Will Cambodia be able to make a peaceful short-cut to liberal democracy? Of course, the process of democratic consolidation will be longer than we might expect. Peaceful transition from authoritarianism into electoral democracy in Cambodia has paved the way for speedy national rehabilitation and economic development after three decades of civil wars. Despite protest by garment workers in 2013 and early this years, Cambodia still obtained a strong GDP growth rate of 7.5 % for 2013, a total export of almost 10 billion USD, and GDP per  Capita of 1036 USD, making Cambodia a new lower middle income country. Furthermore, Cambodia is now contributing back to internatinal community through UN-led Peace Keeping Operations in various countries in Africa and Middle East such as Chad, South Sudan, Lebanon, and Mali.

Cambodia’s political stability and strong economic performance can not be ignored within both domestic context and regional integration, especially in ASEAN. This achieventment has resulted in significant international support and investor confidence for country development. Cambodia’s image and status in the region and the world has been promoted by its wise foreign policy and active participation in the regional and international forum as evidenced by its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2012, culminated with President Obama’s participation in 7th East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh,  and susccefful hosting of remarkable international events in 2013 such as UNESCO World Heritage Commitee Meeting. Cambodian leaders and politicians are more matured in politics and are capable of peaceful dispute settlements after getting political experience from history and several rounds of national elections since 1993. That is why the international community, such as US, EU, Australia, Japan, ROK, have urged all parties to return to peaceful dialogue and negotiation.

Three important factors need to be considered in order to promote democratic consolidation in Cambodia.

First, Cambodian leaders should ensure that a strong foundation of democratic development must be in place if Cambodia seek to enhance its democratic consolidation in the long-term. After being ravaged by almost three decades of civil wars, Cambodia has been left with almost no social foundation for democratic development. Democracy was brought to Cambodia by UNTAC-led election in 1993 through Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, as part of resolutions to settle internal conflicts in Cambodia. The loss of social foundation for democracy in Cambodia was caused by the pure agrarian communist policy of the Khmer Rouge regime which resulted in the killing of civil servants, intellectuals, teachers, students, and urban people. The country had plunged into the period of “Year Zero” from 1975-1978.    
Second, Democracy will never be consolidated unless Cambodia can maintain peace and stability, and economic development. This does not mean that Cambodia need to have a develomental authoritrianism to rule the country forever. Rather, it is because of fragile peace and stability that Cambodia always endures in combination with border tension with neighboring countries. In order to sustain democracy, we need to have an equittable economic development and a pro-poor growth with the ultimate aim of poverty eradication since Cambodia still suffer a high poverty rate of 20%. When people are better-off and educated, the more they favor and support democracy, and reject violence as a form of dispute solution. This minimize the chance of the recurrence of civil war in Cambodia.   

Third, while democracy is promoted, rule of laws must be respected in order to ensure a peaceful democratic environment , social order and harmony. In the post-conflict society, Rule of laws has important role to maintain public order, peace, and stability while, at the same time, provide check and balance so that there is no abuse of power by the government. Democracy and rule of law must go in parallel so that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution and relevant laws.

With three decades of civil wars and Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia is relatively new to democracy. After UNTAC-supervised election in 1993, Democracy in Cambodia always goes back and forth and remains an unconsolidated one. Large amount of international development assistances have been provided by donor countries to help consolidate democracy and to promote socio-economic development. At least, the basic principle of democracy is being promoted through regular senate elections, parliamentary elections and commune council elections every five years. In addition, civil society and NGOs come to life and flourish in Cambodia due to political openness and internatinal support. At the same time, Cambodian youth begins to absorb new ideas and western values. They no longer think the same way as their parents do. 

Since most of Cambodia’s population is youth and social media has increasing role in spreading information, the traditional media, such televisions and radios, is no longer the effective mean to seek support for the government. The ruling party should conduct a real comprehensive reform, elimination of corruption and cronyism, promotion of social justice and equality with strong political commitment in order to regain its popularity for the next election cycle. Otherwise, not only the issue of legitimacy it will face, its popularity will decline day by day.

You may like to read this article in edited version on The Diplomat Magazine.

Other articles on Cambodia: 

    (5 March 2014)

    (17 October 2011)

    (03 October 2011)

    (12 September 2011)

6. Review of Cambodia's Economy and Finance (up to 2011)
    (31 August 2011)

     (22 August 2011)

    (17 August 2011)

    (17 August 2011)

    (16 August 2011)

      (15 August 2011)

      (15 August 2011)


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