Before the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian government emphasised the importance of an independent civil-society sector.
I believe most Cambodians dream of a prosperous future in which every citizen has the right and opportunity to reach their potential.
To help make this dream come true, we must realise that today’s world is very complex and there are many external and internal forces pushing and pulling our country.
The government must understand the need for every citizen to help manage, and prepare for, those challenges. Cambodia cannot compete successfully on this global stage without empowering our society.
Many global investors are looking at how Cambodia’s government respects and grows with its civil society as an indicator of how foreign investors will be treated here.
We need to recognise that Cambodia is a nascent democracy, and we are still struggling with the core concepts of human rights.
This problem is especially acute among the ruling elite and their subordinates. These powerful forces claim the right to rule Cambodia, but do not seek, or encourage, active participation by the public.
The day Cambodia’s ruling elite truly respects the right of civil society to organise and participate is the day human rights is finally understood and celebrated in our country.
Cambodian civil society views the government not as an adversary, but as a partner and the designated authority elected by the people to represent its citizens’ best interests.
Civil society does not seek to replace the government, but to exist as a broad, independent grouping of institutions that will help guide the government’s actions.
Every citizen has a right, and a responsibility, to make our country better. As a country, we need to celebrate diversity and encourage greater participation, not less.
This message may be difficult for the powerful people to hear, but civil society’s growth will help create a stronger, more intelligent, creative and competitive country.
Without that understanding, Cambodia will always struggle, because any strategy based on the desire to micro-manage an entire country will disastrously repeat the paranoid mistakes made by the Khmer Rouge. That must never happen again.
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The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.