IN a few weeks the election will be history - the dust will settle and a government
will form. After a year of politics twisted by factionalism and violence, leaders
will have a chance to refocus on the task at hand: governing the nation.
The new government - certain to be led by the CPP - faces a host of problems that
have sat on the back burner since factional fighting began in July 1997: a slumping
economy, a bloated military and civil service, widespread human rights abuses, the
spread of AIDS and other diseases, an anaemic education system, rampant illegal logging
and deep-rooted corruption.
Prime minister-elect Hun Sen has already declared in a televised speech that boosting
the economy will be a top priority of the next government.
Observers welcomed the statement but remained skeptical. Although they agreed that
revitalizing the economy is a critical task, they point to a larger issue that they
describe as the linchpin for economic, social and political development: implementing
the rule of law.
"The problem here is that we have the rule of man," said Peter Schier of
the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. "The system here is deeply feudalist. What they
have to do is develop a democratic state under the rule of law and strengthen democratic
Schier argued that doing business in Southeast Asia is already a gamble because of
the current economic downturn and that Cambodia's corrupt and violent reputation
will keep many investors away until serious reforms are implemented.
Legal experts say that the Assembly must immediately set to work on a new criminal
code and criminal procedure law to replace the current amalgam of State of Cambodia
and UNTAC-era legislation.
The CPP-dominated courts have been accused in the past of selecting laws in a random
fashion to suit its own politically motivated purposes.
"This would be an effort to condense everything into one law," one foreign
legal expert said of a new criminal code. "It's not about getting tougher on
crime... it's to clean up the mess."
CPP officials interviewed by the Post blamed past turmoil and lawlessness on the
unwieldy Funcinpec-CPP coalition of 1993-97 and agreed that fostering respect for
the law and human rights should be priorities of the next administration.
"You know well that the first mandate of the [1993-97 government] was national
reconciliation. Politics came first, legality came after," CPP spokesman Khieu
Kanharith said. "The state of law must be restored now that we have one prime
To pave the way for foreign investors, Kanharith said the CPP will push for budgetary
reforms, the enforcement of tax laws, economic studies on the impact of joining ASEAN
and a stronger stance against deforestation and environmental destruction.
CPP Council of Ministers official Svay Sitha said improving the human rights situation
through military and police education and the formation of a permanent government
human rights commission will also be addressed by the new administration.
"The first issue is the issue of human rights," he said. "We will
submit legislation for the new National Assembly to consider and approve."
Asked if there would be a crackdown on rogue elements in the police and military
to break the current cycle of impunity, Svay Sitha responded: "You cannot say
the new government will make more or less arrests. The government needs to make investigations
and gather evidence... and abide by the rule of law."
Rights workers fear that Svay Sitha, whose ad hoc human rights commission has done
little to investigate past political killings, is merely attempting to stymie the
efforts of established rights organizations, like the local office of the UN High
Commissioner on Human Rights, by creating a permanent government commission.
"It's commendable if they're going to change course and make human rights a
priority," one foreign rights official said. "But you won't find a single
human rights worker in this country that believes this commission will be independent."
Politician Sam Rainsy, who is expected to spend the next five years in opposition,
is equally cautious of the CPP's statements. Rainsy said there are "a list of
reforms to be implemented" by the government, but he doubted the CPP could disentangle
itself from Cambodia's web of corruption and foster politically neutral institutions.
Rainsy predicted that the CPP will refuse to loosen its grip on the police, military
and judiciary. Without independent security forces and an impartial court, he said,
human rights violations, impunity and corruption will continue unabated.
"We need a dismantling of the communist system," Rainsy said. "We
have to separate the state, which is supposed to serve the nation as a whole, and
the ruling party, which serves only its own purposes."
Rainsy, a former finance minister who was ejected from the last government when he
criticised corruption and pushed for economic reform, said that Hun Sen and the next
administration cannot concentrate on short-term solutions to long-term economic problems.
Attracting foreign investment may help fill government coffers, he said, but if the
additional income is not invested in the future of the nation - education, health
care and rural development - the country will never emerge from poverty.
The last government allocated an average of 47% of its budget to the ministries of
interior and defense, while 10% went to education, 6% to health and 3% to agricultural
development, according to the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
"I would like to reverse these proportions," Rainsy commented. "I
want to see 40% go to education and health and 10% to defense."
Both the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Sam Rainsy separately warned that the overall
budget dramatically shrank with the withdrawal of international aid last year and
although many aid agencies will return to assist a new and legitimate government,
an overall decrease in foreign aid should be expected.
Rainsy said that the government must quickly learn how to do more with less and that
foreign donors must put pressure on Cambodia to develop and attain self-sufficiency.
"If you want to help this country you must push this country," he said.
"If I had some responsibility I would set a date of perhaps 10 years when Cambodia
would no longer need international assistance and explain my plan for reaching this
But it looks like Rainsy will not be given much, if any, responsibility in the new
government. Instead, he will be restricted to pushing for reform as leader of the
opposition Sam Rainsy Party in parliament.
"I have a group of MPs, over 13 MPs. I can do a lot in the National Assembly,"
"I can question the constitutionality of laws, I can propose amendments to laws,
and I can draft laws that will promote the nation's interests."