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What does the future hold?

Prime Minister Hun Sen at the National Assembly during a meeting of the newly formed parliament.
Prime Minister Hun Sen at the National Assembly during a meeting of the newly formed parliament. HENG CHIVOAN

What does the future hold?

Officials, business professionals and political analysts have mixed opinions on the leadership of the single-party Cambodian government and what the future hold for the next five years.

Sok Touch, a professor of political science at Khemarak University, said the political deadlock won’t help the nation become prosperous within the next five years and beyond.

He said he can’t predict the future of Cambodia while the political situation remains unclear and nothing seems to be going smoothly, with one party overly arrogant and the other rather impotent.

“You see, the government is like a mushroom with a big head, and in the meantime the opposition has no influence at all,” Touch said.

He said the new government has not been recognised by many democratic bodies like the US, the EU and others, and that is “serious challenge” for the new government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was appointed by the National Assembly on September 24. The premier spent six hours on September 25 reading the government’s third-phase strategy and promised to bring in reforms, while the CNRP members of parliament led by Sam Rainsy and deputy president Kem Sokha attended a Buddhist ceremony in Siem Reap province.

Son Chhay, a CNRP lawmaker, echoed Sok Touch’s views. He said a single-party government is unacceptable for citizens, and the nepotism and favouritism that had been used to control the system won’t work any more. Cambodian society today is not like Cambodia in 1989.

He warned that if the governing system is weak, then the country will be weak, but when that system is strong, the country will be strong.

“I think the way people see if a country can move forward or backward does not depend on a person [leader], but it depend on a leading system,” Chhay said.

“I understand that for the next five years and beyond, there will be many problems happening,” Chhay said. He added that “our farmers will owe a lot of money to banks and be heavily in debt. Secondly, good investors will not come to invest beside illegal land grabbers”.

Newly appointed Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Hang Choun Naron told the Post that as a new minister he is sure Cambodia will shine under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

He said the education system will be fixed and more youth will get jobs, and a better education system will help improve the economy.

“We are going to hold discussions among our ministerial officials to come up with a plan to tackle problems like corruption during exams and even salaries for teachers,” Choun Naron said.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said that over the next five years he will make Cambodia a green and clean attractive tourist destination, as well as promoting cultural and eco-tourism.

“We have to educate our people in new concepts … to build more public toilets and clean up all the plastic bags on the street,” Thong Khon said. “We will encourage people to use eco-bags instead,” he said.

He said the tourism sector remains an important pillar for economic growth even before and beyond 2015, when ASEAN becomes one single market.

“What I want to happen within the next five years is tourism schools. We are looking for partners to establish tourism schools, and we would provide loans to students from banks for this professional skill,” Khon said.

He said by 2020, the tourism sector could create 800,000 jobs. By 2030, there will 115 million travellers within ASEAN, a region with a population of 600 million.

Visa exemptions will be in place and improved airport facilities will help carry about 7.5 million passengers by 2025.

Nguon Meng Tech, the director-general of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, said from the private investor perspective the future is not as bleak as some political analyst say. He has confidence in newly appointed Minister of Commerce Sun Chanthol, who is known as a clean man with a Harvard degree and uniquely qualified to handle the pressure of the position.

“We can see a more positive future. I saw that he is a clean man and has a high capacity, he has talent, he has a wide vision,” Meng Tech said.

He added that the deadlock won’t stop new investors coming into Cambodia – they are merely on the sidelines with plenty of investment capital as they wait to see how the dust settles. He said that in order to make the situation favourable for investors, the CNRP should be ready to speak out on anything they want to change at the National Assembly.

“I believe that opposition MPs should be at the National Assembly. If they don’t join, then citizens will pass judgment on them and voters will be asking, 'Where are my voices?'”

Ho Vandy, the co-chair of a private tourism sector group, said the political environment is a major obstacle in the tourism sector right now.

“This is a matter that everyone has to raise questions about. What do we all actually want? Politicians have to come together to forge a deal that is a win-win solution” he said.

He said in case politicians are not able to reach any solutions, then the economic situation as well as development plans will be blocked.

“We are not talking about predictions, we are talking about the truth,” he said.

Kay Kimsong is the Editor-in-Chief of Post Khmer, The Phnom Penh Post’s sister paper.

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