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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New king and same old problems

New king and same old problems

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King Norodom Sihamoni releases a symbolic dove of peace at a public ceremony at the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh for the 51st anniversary of Cambodian independence from French rule on November 9, 1953. Sihamoni was greeted at the monument by 50,000 where he lit the eternal flame representing the Cambodian spirit. Dignitaries included Chea Sim, President of the Senate, Heng Samrin, acting head of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Hun Sen, co-Ministers of Interior, police and military commanders, ambassadors, diplomats, students and others. The celebrations lasted three days, November 9-11, with fireworks in front of the Royal Palace and live concerts at public places every night.

There have been many developments in this country in the last few moths. We have

had the reinstatement of a so-called "Package Government" created through

an "Additional Constitution". Once again in Cambodia we are hearing the

catch phrase declaration of "a war against corruption" by our own prime

minister. The anticipated retirement of our well-known monarch Norodom Sihanouk was

realised as was the appointment of a new king. The plan to strip parliamentary immunity

from the opposition leader and two of its members fortunately was not realised, but

certainly was grounds for concern. As can be seen from these examples alone, the

situation in Cambodia has not improved and the people in power continue to abuse

Cambodia's unreliable and confused system of governance for their own personal benefit

to the detriment of Cambodia's people and society.

The Prime Minister's war against corruption will remain just "a paper tiger"

initiative: It lacks any teeth to make the changes necessary to combat corruption

in Cambodia. In spite of all the rhetoric, there have still been no attempts to establish

and strengthen the legal framework and related institutions or to create an effective

anti-corruption commission. These are the first basic steps this government must

be seen to make if it expects us to take its talk about the "war against corruption"

with any sense of credibility. Without these steps the basic principles of liberal

democracy can not be implemented. Parliament must urgently be strengthened, especially

the role of its member Parliamentarians to oversee the government, either through

proper monitoring of the government's activities, or through parliamentary debates

and question times, or through investigations into allegations of corruption against

the government. And above all opposition party members and parliamentary committees

should be given due support and respect as opposed to the current situation where

they are constantly being threatened or coerced.

It is critical that the ruling parties recognize and respect the rights of opposition

MPs. After all, they share with these opposition MP's positions within the parliament

and certain roles, such as some chairmanship positions, within parliamentary committees

and other leadership roles. I believe that it could be of great benefit for opposition

MP's to be officially allowed to form a shadow cabinet. In this way, they would be

made more effective in their role of opposition members and be able to monitor the

government and its activities in a way which would ensure increased transparency

and accountability, which currently is desperately lacking.

Besides the need for a functional parliament, we also need to create a system of

checks and balances, especially within our institutions which are currently in desperate

need of being strengthened. Our new King must immediately take control of the Supreme

Council of Magistracy and the Supreme Council of Defense to ensure the independence

and neutrality of these powerful bodies. The government must work hard to reform

its existing administration, which has been applied since 1980 and is based on a

centralized regime, and update it with a system, as mentioned in our 1993 liberal

democratic constitution, where decentralization of power is adopted with clear instructions

on the duties and responsibilities of civil servants given out at all levels of its

administration to ensure that they understand their priority role, which is to provide

reliable services to the people with honesty and accountability.

For Cambodia, as can be seen, liberal democracy is not just about securing the people's

dignity and protecting people from all kinds of human rights abuses, but is about

much more. It is about creating a system that will be sustainable, reliable and accountable

if we want Cambodia to have lasting peace and survival. Certainly, we must never

forget the hard lessons we learnt from our sad past: The civil war caused by social

division and followed by a foreign invasion dragged Cambodia into great suffering

and destruction in the last few decades. All Cambodian political leaders therefore

must continue to respect the Paris Peace Accords which were based on the adoption

and the full implementation of liberal democratic principles. We agreed then that

only democracy could help to bring unity back into our nation, and with national

unity we can rebuild our country towards prosperity and social harmony.

Son Chhay is a member of Parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party.

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