While efforts to decide on a draft constitution are being pursued out of view, democracy
may be emerging in Cambodia in a different way.
This week workshops are planned to allow constituents in four Provinces to give ideas
about the constitution to their elected members of the assembly.
At the same time there has been an attempt to form the first bi-partisan coalition
of assembly members. It hopes to help educated Cambodians about democracy and protect
Kem Sokha may be the first Assemblyman to talk to his constituents in such a fashion.
Kem emphasized that he is not allowed by the rules of the Constituent Assembly to
talk to his constituents about the constitution, rather he wants to solicit their
ideas about the constitution. Only twelve members of the Assembly know what is contained
in the Constitution, but they are under strict guidelines of confidentiality.
Kem's visit will be part of a wider effort to allow members of the Cambodian Constituent
Assembly to talk to people in their provinces. The Asia Foundation's Cambodian Center
of Law and Democracy is providing budgetary support for the effort. This week they
are starting with four provinces, and hope to expand to ten provinces in the near
future. In the short run they will try to reach Prey Veng, Takeo, Battambang and
Things have not been easy so far. Kem was accompanied by Son Sovann, another member
of the Assembly and the son of the Assembly's President, on his first assessment
trip to Takeo. He said that they were told by the provincial governor that they needed
permission from the Phnom Penh government before he could allow them to hold a public
meeting. Kem says that they now have permission from Son Sann and they hope to hold
their first meeting on thursday.
During his trip to the Takeo, Kem says he asked one man what form of government that
he would prefer. The man, he said, told him, "I don't know anything about governments,
I just want peace." Kem says that many people in the countryside "do not
know what democracy is, they just follow the idea of the leaders." He says,
"there is a great need to teach democracy."
Because he sees such a great need to educate the Khmer people, especially in the
country-side, Kem Sokha has announced the formation of POSOD, the Parliamentary Organization
for Social Development. He hopes it will become a bi-partisan coalition of members
of the Assembly who care about human rights and their protection. He says that the
aims of his organization are to "meet directly with the people and convey their
requests to the parliament and government, to provide the people with training on
human rights and democracy, and to explain and disseminate information on the significance
of the new constitution." The group wants to promote rural development.
They have publishedthree pages of statues for the organization. Though they do not
yet have permission from Sihanouk to form the group, Kem is hopeful that he will
Kem describes his group as "an independent community" and says that perhaps
"ten assemblymen have indicated interest in the group."
Kem Sokha's interest in human rights is not new, he helped to form the first human
rights group in Cambodia, Vigilance. He says, "I realized that I wanted to be
involved in politics in order to further human rights, so I use my party as a bridge
to the assembly in order to press for the inclusion of human rights in the constitution."
Phong Sith, the current President of Vigilance and the Vice-President of Ponleu Khmer
has helped Kem Sokha to organize the effort to reach Cambodians in the provinces.
He syas "I want a constitution that comes from the people of Cambodia.
Kem says that "previous Cambodian constitutions have stipulated human rights,
but they did not follow them. I hope my group will help the ensure that human rights
are protected in Cambodian in the future.
In other developments in Phnom Penh, Jieb Ketphol of the Asia Foundation is attempting
to organize a television discussion onthe constitution to be broadcast on IBC soon.