Democracy is a controversial topic in Cambodia, where almost 70 percent of the population are under the age of 35. In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times, Prum Sokha, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Public Service, discusses democracy in Cambodia, which he says is unique in its own way.
KT: How do you define democracy?
Mr Sokha: When I was younger, I learned in school that democracy is a system of government which prioritises the people, and there are two kinds of democracy: direct and non-direct. But, that is not enough for today’s democracy. There has been no consensus on a single definition of democracy. We cannot say that something is democratic or not democratic. There is not a single standard, even for the Western democracy, which was originated from Western countries. However, the pillar that makes a regime genuinely democratic is that it was chosen by the people through election.
KT: However, many institutions, such as international communities and European governments, say Cambodia’s democracy is not complete, despite peace and economic development. Which side do you think our young people should support right now?
Mr Sokha: Let’s recall 26 years ago, when the 1993 General Election was organised in Cambodia. At that time, so many people went to cast their votes. The voter turnout was 89.56 percent out of 4.7 million voters then. People believed the election would lead to peace and development, although they knew so little about democracy at that time. The end of the war opened the door for the progress of democracy. The main determiner of a complete democracy is peace. Today, as you have mentioned, many have been critical of Cambodia’s democracy, some even call it “dead”. However, that is only because of the problems that emerge from progress. Some problems are easy to solve, and some are not. But, no matter what, we are going forward. There is no democracy which is flawless.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s and Western democracies are like cheese and prahok. You cannot force a cheese-eater to eat prahok, and you cannot force prahok-eater to eat cheese. However, our young people can quickly absorb new things, and that is why some of them misunderstand the concept of democracy in Cambodia.
KT: On social media, many Cambodian young users are calling their country an authoritarian country. Are they correct? Why or why not?
Mr Sokha: They are just following a perception. There are various perceptions of democracy. We say our country is a democracy, but some people say it is not. It is only their own perception of democracy. But, we have elections and elected representatives. We have many political parties, and the freedom of speech in Cambodia is good compared to many other countries in the region. We are also having rapid development.
KT: What do you think Cambodian youths can do to support democracy in their country?
Mr Sokha: First of all, they can participate by going to cast their vote in the election or being candidates in the election. They should also involve themselves in organizations that work on democracy. Third, they have the right to debate over issues in their communities and to express their opinions on platforms such as social media. However, more importantly, they have to be responsible before the law for what they do. This requirement exists in all democratic countries, either Western or Eastern. They have their rights, but they cannot use it to violate others’ right.
KT: Do you have any message for Cambodian youths?
Mr Sokha: I want to ask them to study more on the issue of democracy, and put lots of consideration into it before accepting any conception. They also have to learn more about our history and understand how hard our government has worked to help the country recover from the chaotic moments in history. They cannot say our democracy is dead just because an opposition party was dissolved.
Posted by Khmer Times on Wednesday, 3 April 2019