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Democracy on the decline: think tank

Cambodia ranks among the lowest in the region on its ability to reform; corruption, political stasis and a rapidly widening income gap are hindering its progress, according to a recent survey of the country’s democratic institutions.

“The hopes once raised by Cambodia’s process of democratic transformation have long since been disappointed,” notes a report released on Thursday by German think tank Bertelsmann Stiftung, which gave Cambodia especially low scores in the areas of politics and economic stability.

Ranked on a scale of one to 10, Cambodia received two in “stability of democratic institutions”, putting it above Myanmar and Laos – which each scored one – but far below Thailand’s 3.5 and Indonesia’s and the Philippines’ score of seven.

“With little evident opportunity to overturn CPP rule, a general loss of trust and interest in the functioning of democratic institutions, not only within the National Assembly and the Senate, but also within other segments of the political elite and civil society, seems to be inevitable,” the report says.

Transformation Index, which every two years ranks countries considered to be transitional democracies, has dropped Cambodia from 88 out of 125 countries in 2008 to 105 of 128 countries this year.

“Economic growth has been prioritised over guaranteeing the protection of water sources and forests,” the survey notes. “While the Cambodian state now has a very stable political system, this has come
at the cost of democratic participation.”

Though stability appears chief among government successes, the report warns a growing income gap could threaten the calm. “[S]ocial stability may come to be threatened if a redistribution of wealth cannot be managed. Major social reforms should be long-term goals.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the group’s findings, saying it appeared to misunderstand both the rate of change and the situation on the ground.

“I don’t think that report accurately reflects what’s happening in Cambodia. They use outdated information,” he said. “We support the well-functioning mechanisms of a democratic society.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Abby Seiff at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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