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Taking Democracy to the Provinces

Taking Democracy to the Provinces

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

human rights.

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

Kampong Cham.

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

get it.

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.

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