Proleung Khmer

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

People Power?

The ruling party has a firm grip on power in Cambodia. Is the opposition dreaming about the people power?


  • April 27, 2005
    ‘We will have our own people power’

    Sam Rainsy, Cambodia’s opposition leader, was one of three who were stripped of parliamentary immunity in February after exposing corruption in government. One of his colleagues has been detained. Rainsy has since left Cambodia and was in Manila recently to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting. He spoke with NEWSBREAK’S Marites Dañguilan Vitug.


    What do you expect from the IPU?
    This is not the first time that I knocked on the door of the IPU. Ten years ago, I was expelled from Parliament in a totally illegal manner, and I asked for the support of the IPU. They condemned my expulsion. After that, I founded my own party and we won 22 percent of the seats in the [2003] elections. Now, the ruling party has tried other tricks to get rid of me.

    I have become jobless and homeless. Thanks to the support of friends, I am not hopeless and helpless.

    What happens to your partymates in Cambodia?
    The ruling party is testing the waters. They start with three [stripping them of parliamentary immunity]. If there’s no international protest, then they will create problems with the other members of Parliament.

    How long do you expect your colleague to be detained?
    It depends on the reaction of the world. Cambodia is sensitive to international pressure for two reasons. One, Cambodia is very dependent on international assistance. More than 50 percent of government expenditures are financed by international assistance. So the international community has a leverage to push for democratic reforms. (Japan and the European Union are Cambodia’s biggest donors.)

    Two, the international treaty on Cambodia, the Paris Peace Accord signed in 1991 by the major world powers, was meant to ensure that Cambodia be on the democratic path. Since we have departed from the democratic path, the signatories of the accord should be compelled to react.

    Have you asked the King to intervene?
    The King-father has already intervened. He asked the political parties to get into an understanding so that there’s a kind of national reconciliation. He proposed that the member of Parliament be released from prison, parliamentary immunity be restored, and the role of the opposition be recognized. The party in power has so far rejected these.

    I assumed that the King’s word is very important.
    Normally. The King in Thailand is very powerful. But the King of Cambodia, even though he’s much respected, does not have the same power. This is one of the reasons he abdicated last year.

    How about the present King?
    He’s less experienced and does not commit as much as his father does, but he listens to his father. The King-father continues to represent the conscience of the nation.

    How does the Cambodian press cover the opposition?
    The print media are read by only one percent of the population. Two-thirds of the population are illiterate; most of the population live below the poverty line. What is most important is the broadcast media—and they are virtually controlled by the government.

    Are you hopeful that things will change?
    There are some natural and political trends that favor change. The population of Cambodia is very young. These young people are more educated, more demanding in terms of jobs, living conditions, and in terms of social justice. They are more critical of the regime. They are supportive of change—and the opposition represents change. And more young people are reaching the voting age.

    More and more, people cannot find jobs in the countryside so they move to the city. In the city, people are less afraid, there’s more information, thanks to technology. The opposition is popular in the cities.

    In the next few years, we will have people power in Cambodia. We get inspiration from you.

    You proposed sanctions on Cambodia.
    I’m not really proposing that. I know that sanctions will hurt the poor people. The privileged people will not suffer. What I am proposing are guarantees that international assistance will reach the poor and not be diverted by corrupt government officials. Those guarantees imply that we have the rule of law, good governance, and democracy. Democracy implies checks and balance and this implies a strong and vibrant opposition.

    Over the last 10 years, there has been an increase in poverty, in mortality rates, and in illiteracy rate in Cambodia. It’s appalling. We’re moving backward.

    Despite the international assistance?
    Precisely. That’s why international aid should be monitored.

    Who should be the watchdog?
    It should be the Cambodian people themselves. That’s why we need a strong opposition! The fight against poverty and the effectiveness of international assistance is conditional on a strong democracy. We’re asking donor countries to help promote democracy so that their aid is more effectively used.

    That’s long-term?
    No. It could be done rapidly and easily. If the donors push the Cambodian government to respect democratic principles, then the opposition can do its job, monitor the government.

    The future of Cambodia is very much tied to international pressure.
    Our survival depends on international aid. So the international community should insure that the money goes to the poor people and that assistance strengthens democracy and helps protect human rights.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:30 AM  

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