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Reform talk from CPP

The Cambodian People’s Party is prepared to make sweeping changes during its fifth government mandate, including improving the often-criticised judiciary and prioritising social justice, a government spokesman said.

This “period of reform” would see deep-seated changes across a number of ministries in response to grievances expressed by both its supporters and those who voted for the opposition, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said.

“We heard very well from our people on issues of social justice, issues of corruption and issues of land. So I think those areas are going to be targeted as a priority in the fifth term,” he said.

Official election results released on Sunday confirmed that the CPP won 68 seats in this election, dropping 22 seats from its 2008 results.

Siphan said yesterday that the courts – which have long been criticised by observers for their lack of independence – would be made “more accountable”.

“[We will appoint] competent lawyers as well as judges. [There will be] better administration in court as we learn from the [Khmer Rouge tribunal]. Justice will be happening in the court system with better services provided by the government,” he said.

Although the CPP has long based its governing credentials on providing stability and economic growth – as evidenced by soaring GDP figures and kilometres of newly paved roads – Siphan said that during this term the government would focus on social justice rather than infrastructure building.

He said, however, that an overall picture of things to come would be outlined by Prime Minister Hun Sen in his first speech to the National Assembly – which is due to sit on September 23.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said yesterday that the government’s words were “positive” but that effective mechanisms and a timetable for changes would have to be announced before the CPP could be applauded for any reforms.

“The government and the ruling party have said those kinds of things before, but then so far, to my knowledge, little has been achieved,” he said.

“To be able to recover and to get the voters’ popular support, I think they have to effectively and drastically change themselves – the institutions, mechanisms and attitudes.”

Panhavuth Long, program officer at the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said that whether the government was truly willing to bolster the independence of the judiciary would depend on whether they introduced legislation strictly defining the roles and responsibilities of judges.

Such laws, Panhavuth said, would secure the tenure of judges, in addition to making their conduct, discipline, promotion, transfer and dismissal more “transparent and objective”.

“I would welcome these kinds of statements, but we have to wait and see because the government has been promising legal and judicial reform since 1994 … and the law on the status of judges has been in the pipeline for more than 10 years,” he said.

“[We need courts where] new judges and new lawyers admitted are all competent and don’t buy their way in through corruption, and are accountable to the law rather than [a political] party in their decisions.”

Despite calls for an overhaul of the National Election Committee – deemed by many to be a tool of the ruling party – Siphan maintained that any such reforms were outside the CPP’s mandate.

“The NEC does not belong to any particular party. It belongs to voters.… It’s an independent body. Only the National Assembly should be able to do that,” he said.

“I want to [emphasise] that the NEC, from the CPP side, belongs to voters and not any political party.”

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