Amid more cosy relations and a blossoming “culture of dialogue”, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said that he has brought up the idea of reviving the country’s National Congress with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Upon returning from Kuala Lumpur on Monday, the Cambodia National Rescue Party head told reporters that he is aiming to foster broader communication – not just among political leaders, but among the Cambodian people as well – by reviving the National Congress, a forum from the Sihanouk era in which the public could raise issues directly with state authorities.
“The National Congress is in the spirit of [the culture of dialogue],” said Rainsy. “In the time of [Sihanouk’s] Sangkum Reastr Niyum [regime], Samdech Norodom Sihanouk aimed to have ordinary people from every province and city to talk with him, so he could listen and come to resolutions. We want to create this as a new habit . . . to let democracy take root.”
He also stressed that leaders and dignitaries must respect common people and let them air their grievances to those in power.
Sok Eysan, a spokesperson for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, however, said that such a congress is not necessary in modern Cambodia since the country now has a multiparty political system.
“Citizens follow different political trends according to different parties, so the creation of a similar congress from Sihanouk’s time should not [happen],” he said. “But, if the leaders have the will, or [create] a program to meet with citizens and resolve problems, they can.”
Eysan added that Hun Sen has urged officials to create such forums in his attempt to foster government reforms.
Independent political analyst Chea Vannath, meanwhile, agreed that the government should not resuscitate the country’s National Congress, albeit for a different reason. She claimed that a congress would not achieve results in the country nowadays, due in part to the rampant land disputes that are typically resolved in favour of the wealthy and powerful.
“In the time of Samdech King Father [Sihanouk], he pitied people so much, that any official who disputed with the people would be defeated,” she said.
Vannath, who has lived though multiple regimes, added that today’s leaders must prove that they have their principles in line with those of the common people by fairly settling issues such as land disputes.
Cambodia’s 1993 Constitution originally had included an annual National Congress, though the provision has since been amended. No congresses have been held under Hun Sen.