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Cambodia needs a true democratic government

Dear Editor,

Today is Constitution Day in Cambodia, a public holiday that gives Cambodians a chance to celebrate and reflect on the enactment of the 1993 Constitution.

Article 1 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia states that Cambodia shall be ruled according to the principles of liberal democracy and pluralism.

This Constitution Day the Cambodian Center for Human Rights encourages Cambodians to reflect on the unique potential of liberal democratic systems to both uphold civil and political rights and promote equitable economic growth.

In 2010, the liberal democratic system guaranteed in Cambodian’s Constitution is in a fragile state. A recent report issued jointly by 17 NGOs – Cambodia Gagged: Democracy at Risk – raises concerns that the Royal Government of Cambodia, led by the Cambodian People’s Party, is dismantling the fundamental pillars of democracy and gradually moving Cambodia towards a one-party political system.

The report documents the use of state power against parliamentarians, media, lawyers, human rights activists and other citizens to silence debate and close the space for pluralism and diversity of opinion within Cambodia. Given the emergence in Cambodia of an autocratic, authoritarian political system at the expense of liberal democracy, we should examine whether this new system is an effective political model to promote the interests of Cambodian citizens.

The CPP-led RGC has promoted similar priorities to those espoused by the “Beijing Consensus,” emphasising Cambodia’s achievement of high levels of economic growth over the past decade and promoting the CPP as the only political force capable of maintaining peace and stability in Cambodia.

The RGC presided over economic growth in double digits between 2004 and 2007 prior to the global economic slowdown. However, much of this growth resulted from crony capitalism benefiting a few well-connected businessmen, CPP senators and foreign investors.

The RGC has also promoted its ability to maintain stability. However, the price of such a trade-off can include the violent suppression of those promoting alternative solutions to a country’s problems, such as the 1997 grenade attack, and the 2004 assassination of labour leader Chea Vichea in Cambodia, or on a larger scale, brutality such as the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in 1989.

The political system in operation in Cambodia today carries the veil of democracy, but this is a charade. In a true liberal democracy, opposition politicians are able to speak and present policy proposals in parliament, citizens are able to organise protests and strikes without being charged with incitement, and the courts are respected by citizens as an independent arbiter of conflicts.

This Constitution Day, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights calls on members of all political parties to reflect on the democratic values enshrined in Cambodia’s supreme law and consider how they can work together with dignity and respect to build a truly democratic system capable of benefiting all Cambodians.

Ou Virak
Cambodian Center for Human Rights



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