"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.