Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pluralism takes root in Cambodia

Pluralism takes root in Cambodia

Pluralism takes root in Cambodia

"THE Western brand of democracy is not applicable to Cambodia." In spite

of statements like this, which ignore that the basic principles of democracy are

not Western but universal, independent Cambodia has never enjoyed such a level of

pluralism as it has today.

With around 10 political parties actually active, with move than one hundred local

non-governmental organizations and a dozen of them working in the field of human

rights, with a union fighting for the rights of workers, with more than thirty newspapers

in Khmer and several of them expressing divergent opinions, it seems to me untrue

to say that Cambodia is not a pluralistic society.

Thus, while the government is failing to encourage this trend in pluralism, while

the National Assembly has been extremely slow in creating the legal grounds for rights

protected by the Constitution, and while political leaders sometimes try to prevent

the creation of new areas of autonomy within society, there have also been many instances

of pressure, intimidation, politically-motivated killings, and insincere and legally

groundless deadlocks. But pluralism in Cambodian society does exist in spite of the

government. This poor involvement of the authorities precisely shows that genuine

pluralism is emerging, step by step, and that it is a process which stems from efforts

of the people at the grassroots.

Nevertheless a lot of foreign observers are blaming Cambodia today for its failure

to implement the legal Nirvana which is called "The Paris Agreements".

International critics of the current situation in Cambodia should keep in mind that

conflict is by nature a part of the political process. One should not forget how

long and how hard the struggle was for improvements in the respect for human dignity

on both sides of the North Atlantic ocean. These developments emerged with successes

and failures and always from conflicted situations.

How could such a move to an open society be possible by decree, and without tension?

Democratic elections are insufficient to create democracy. Democracy needs a level

of education, political consensus and above all a strong will expressed by the people

themselves - without ignoring how important the local realities, the culture and

the historical background are on the way to genuine democracy.

Many human rights activists expect a level of perfection from Cambodia which doesn't

exist in London, Paris or New York. The UN blames Cambodia for the expulsion of anti-Hanoi

activists to Vietnam, but the UN remained silent when Cambodian refugees in Thailand

were forced during the eighties to move back into Khmer Rouge zones; the UN remained

silent when Japan expelled to Beijing Chinese pro-democracy activists; the UN remained

silent when, by charter airplanes, France expelled immigrants back to African countries.

With such double standards, there is a real lack of credibility on the side of those

who have spent much time in print or in speeches giving lessons to the Cambodians.

Democracy is a never ending quest. The Cambodians have just started from scratch.

They are on the road again. This is the key point.

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