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Analysis: A hard road to democracy

Prime Minister Francois Fillon of France granted an exclusive interview to The Phnom Penh Post on the eve of his two-day visit to Cambodia last month.

Fillon was totally correct to remind Cambodia that democratic institutions must benefit everyone. They are essent-ial pillars of democracy.

The challenge of building these institutions begins with the political will of leaders who have been chosen by their people to lead.

Most important of all, the true challenge is the commitment to an inclusive system of governance and mechan-isms that allows voices to be heard and differences of opinion to be brought to the attention of those in charge.

Judging by these basic principles of democracy, Cambodia has a long way to go. It begins with the practice of “winner takes all” at the National Assembly.

Since the 2008 general election – which European Union observers rated as “far below international standards” – the Cambodian People’s Party has controlled 90 of the 123 seats.

During each parliamentary debate, senior CPP members of parliament refer to themselves as: “we, the 90 seats” and remind other elected representatives that the people of Cambodia have “given” them the power to lead the country.

They truly believe it is their full right to conduct business without any obligation to include the opposition, unless for ceremonial reasons. Such    a mindset is a serious barrier to democratisation.

Democratic institutions must be sustained by public officials and civil servants whose expertise, experience and knowledge ensure that  services to the people are rendered equally and without political interference. Elected leaders and public civil servants have one thing in common: the obligation to maintain a high sense of ethics.

This is another challenge to democratisation: the heavy and active presence of judges and court officials who are members of the central committee of the ruling party.

Like civil servants in all other public institutions, court officials must pledge their allegiance to the CPP.

Every weekend, officials from each ministry and department join CPP “working groups” to pay visits to  the grassroots, using state resources and often with gifts for the rural poor. This system of patronage is totally contrary to a strict code of conduct and respect for ethics.

In the past 20 years, Lithuania, a small country that spent 50 years under a Soviet regime, has built strong democratic roots, a striving civil society and a vibrant multi-party system.

The president of the Lithuanian parliament is a woman, and the first vice-president    is a woman from the opposition party.

The parliamentary commissions on finance and audit are reserved for the opposition for check and balance, and   the opposition leader is first to have the floor during debates.

Where is the hope for democratisation in Cambodia? That light of hope shines each time our villagers stand up to defy arrests.

Networks of the opposition are tightly woven in the countryside, despite the absence  of their leader. Workers have called out for general strikes for better wages.

Women take an active part in that grassroots movement.

The women of Beoung Kak lake who were re-arrested  last Thursday are part of the hope, and their fearless fight for dignity is joined by other victims of injustice throughout Cambodia.

The only way to stop those people fighting for justice is for the ruling party to realise that sharing power is a must.

And it must begin with dialogue and with the recognition of people’s rights and freedom.

Oppressive regimes will always come to an end. The world movement for change has proven so.

More than 1,400 opposition members were arrested at the  weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Is this a sign of       an Asian storm coming?

Mu Sochua is a former minister of women’s affairs who now serves  as a parliamentarian in the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.



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