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Comment: Green lights on the road to civil society

Comment: Green lights on the road to civil society

I would like to underline three highly positive events in recent weeks which

give hope for the future of Cambodia.

The Battambang Tragedy. The dispute within the armed force was critical there. When

soldiers and officers interfere in politics, when they become outspoken, when they

obey differing chains of command, when troops of the same army are fighting each

other, all this paves the way for a renewal of civil war. In the current context,

such a development would mean the end of Cambodia.

The government showed a real sense of responsibility by putting an end to this extremely

dangerous trend. It was a courageous decision to remove extremist local leaders of

both sides from their positions.

Fanatics such as these should be removed everywhere. They are solely driven by their

political purposes and not concerned enough by a fair and efficient administration

of their province. They are often greedy, ruthless and corrupt. They are in all senses

of the expression warlords. The government should continue to clear both the administration

and the military of individuals such as these.

The new alliances. The electoral system based on proportional representation induces

mechanical effects into the political system: as there are many political parties,

there is almost automatically a need to form a coalition between parties ready to

support a government which is in itself a coalition government. There are two ways

to deal with the issue of coalition building: to wait for the results of the elections

and form a coalition after the people have expressed their opinions or to form a

coalition before the election, increasing the chances of preventing the need to share

power with other parties after an election. The goal is to reach a required majority

and, in Cambodia, according to the Constitution, this workable majority is high:

84 among 120 members of the National Assembly.

The system of proportional representation requires a high degree of compromise between

partners for a trusting governmental solidarity and, above all, a strong neutral

administration. Personally I think that such a system is too sophisticated for young

democracies whose political leaders lack democratic traditions. But it was the system

imposed on Cambodia by the Paris Agreements and it seems that this system is today

the only one acceptable by the major parities who will contend the 1998 elections.

By creating alliances to increase their chances to win the next election, the two

main streams of the political scene are showing that they favor not a military competition

but rather one of a political nature, which is a key aspect of any functioning democracy.

What is at stake in creating alliances is the necessity to reduce the divisions among

political tendencies. Democracy is a system that works but it requires both a strong

willingness to work hand-in-hand and, at the same time, the maintenance of a respect

for differing opinions. It is perfectly normal that every big party is trying to

increase its chances to rule the country for the next term without being obliged

to make governmental compromises with the other major party. This is another aspect

of democracy. While welcoming this new trend in Cambodia's young democracy, it remains

to be seen whether or not that competition will be free and fair.

The rebirth of the governmental coalition. After weeks of efforts made by the two

deputy prime ministers HE Sar Kheng and HE Ing Kieth, after realizing that the continuing

dispute between the two main ruling parties would only result in the creation of

a vacuum at the top levels of the administration and increase the possibilities of

a move towards civil war, wisdom has prevailed at last.

The basic political condition for the reconstruction of Cambodia can be described

in one word: stability. Let's hope that in addition to embracing each other three

or five times a day, HRH Prince Norodom Ranariddh and HE Hun Sen will rule together,

will implement the Constitution together, and that they will improve the daily life

of the ordinary people together. The pledge made during the reconciliation lunch

now requires concrete expressions of joint action to prove that the prime ministers

are indeed committed to following through with their stated desire to work in support

of shared goals.

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