Are we ready for the winds of change?

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
People wait to cast their ballot at a mobile polling station in Phnom Penh on May 27,1993, under the observation and supervision of Untac. ROMEO GACAD/afp

Are we ready for the winds of change?

After 60 years, Malaysia has changed governments, after Malaysians took to the polls on weekend and voted to oust the ruling Barisan Nasional party led by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Supporters of the Pakatan Harapan party, headed by the new – and former – Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, celebrated in the streets after the its surprising and convincing victory. Yes, Mahathir was once an ally of Najib, and at 92 the prime minister isn’t getting any younger. But the important point is that our fellow Asean member state has seen a peaceful transition of power, that Malaysians have determined their future through the ballot box and not from the barrel of a gun. The last bit of anxiety died when Najib himself accepted the will of the people.

At the moment, Najib is dealing with the realities of the likely reasons why he was handed such a resounding defeat, including a massive corruption scandal and his establishing an “anti-fake news” law that most deemed as just a veiled attempt to silence political opponents and critics ahead of the election, his one last chance to stave off dealing with the consequences of the scandal.

According to an investigation by the US Justice Department, Najib and his associates looted $4.5 billion from the 1MDB sovereign investment fund between 2009 and 2014, including $700 million that landed in one of Najib’s bank accounts, according to a report by news outlet Al Jazeera.

Malaysian authorities issued a travel ban on Najib, fearing he would flee, as they investigate the scandal.

But it is undeniable that Malaysia held a free, fair and peaceful election that resulted for the first time in a change of power.

In contrast, in Cambodia on Monday, the National Election Committee (NEC) ended the registration period for political parties, announcing that 20 political parties have registered to compete in the sixth national elections. But the list of contenders lacked one crucial player, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was the largest, most organised opposition party until its dissolution last year.

The absence of the CNRP is a sign of a deeper rift in Cambodia, one that hints at a dishonest process. Meanwhile many in the international community have said they will not recognise an election result if the CNRP is sidelined. Prime Minister Hun Sen has shrugged off such concerns.

On the other hand, the cut of some aid from the EU and US to the NEC and to certain other programs is not the answer, because the government is least affected by such actions, while it dramatically affects the poor.
What we should be disscussing is the monitoring of the implementation of the Paris Peace Accord of October 23, 1991.

I argue the mandate of the global community, especially the signatories to the accord, did not end after establishing the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac), arranging an election, setting up a parliament and helping draft our Constitution.

The signatories still have an obligation to ensure that Cambodia and its government adhere to the letter and the spirit of the agreement, by monitoring the Kingdom’s human rights records and its commitment to be governed by the rule of law under the Constitution. So the question is, do the recent amendments to the charter passed by the ruling party and the dissolution of its chief political rival violate the Paris Peace Accord or not? This is what the signatories need to scrutinise.

Peace did not come easily and it can vanish if Cambodians and the international community do not remain vigilant. And if it ever appears that Cambodia is heading towards another civil war, at what point if ever should the international community step in? It is a tough question to ask and answer. Thus it’s important the Kingdom never descends to that point. An important step to avoiding the unthinkable is though a process of reconciliation between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the CNRP, monitored by a neutral actor, perhaps Japan, with the goal of allowing the CNRP to participate in July’s elections.

The process of peace building in Cambodia has stalled and in its place fragmentation has slowly taken hold again, endangering the nation. We can point with hope to Korea, where the North and South split after World War II and who have been technically at war since. Recently, the leaders of the two countries have been shaking hands and preparing a peace treaty to bring their war to an official end.

It is time to end the traditional pattern of the Cambodian government of waiting for after the declaration of election results and then releasing critics from prison. Instead, it is time to allow all political parties to participate in the electoral process, and to make that process fair and open and free from violence. Just like the election in Malaysia last week. Can’t Cambodia be just as united?

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for The Post’s Khmer edition. Comments: [email protected]

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