In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times, Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, says Cambodia’s political scene is suffering from an unhealthy culture called the “colouring culture”. The situation involves political figures painting one another with accusations of wrongdoing. In a bid for change, Mr Kol wants to lead a movement to introduce a new culture which prioritises mutual understanding.
KT: Recently, you attended a congress led by Sam Rainsy in South Korea, where you talked about a new political culture. What is wrong with the current one?
Mr Kol: Let’s face the truth. Our current political culture is dangerous and could lead to national disunity. It involves making baseless accusations, which we call “colouring”. Who colours whom? In fact, everyone is doing it. Some do it when no one is paying attention, while others do it loudly for everyone to hear, which in this case, also takes advantage of the media. Even I could not escape from being coloured as we continue to live in this kind of political culture. For example, during my attendance at the CNRP’s congress in South Korea, some senior CNRP members spread a rumour that I was acting under the order of a son of a prime minister, even though I have been doing my best to prove that I am neutral.
KT: Do you think this ‘colouring culture’ is responsible for the dissolution of the CNRP, as the Supreme Court accused the party of plotting with a foreign superpower to overthrow the legitimate government?
Mr Kol: The colouring culture creates fear in society. Members of the ruling party are afraid that they will be punished when they lose their power, so they are always looking for ways to prevent that. However, in terms of colouring, no one is better than anyone, since members of the opposition party publicly criticize the ruling party outside of the country.
KT: What do you think we should do regarding this issue?
Mr Kol: It is very important that we eliminate the colouring culture and replace it with a new one, which allows people to talk and debate openly upon the basis of political approaches rather than personal approaches. The new culture discourages the use of insult and statements that provoke violence. It also motivates the people to avoid racism, sexism and ageism. Meanwhile, we also want to see people respecting differences. In our current political culture, people with different ideas or ideologies as seen as the enemy. This needs to be eliminated. That should not be happening. Real democracy is like a park, where its beauty comes from all the different coloured flowers.
KT: How do you promote this new political culture?
Mr Kol: Cambodian people will be lucky if their politicians, especially those from the ruling party, initiate this political culture on their own. Otherwise, a lot of things will need to be done in order to spread and promote this culture among the people, especially our youths, those under 30 who make up the majority of the population. After gaining the people’s support, we will put pressure on political parties. Over the next four years, TI Cambodia is rolling out a large-scale campaign to promote a new culture, starting with a consultation with the public to identify what people want and need from their politicians. We will use the data to formulate a code of conduct for politicians, which will be adopted in a national conference. Then, we will educate the people all over the country through the media, forums and so on to gain their support to put pressures on political parties. In addition, we will create monitoring committees to observe its implementation. In three or four years, when politicians see what the public wants, they will do their best to change their approach in gaining the people’s support. On the other hand, if some politicians do not do that because it affects their personal benefits, they will sooner or later be replaced by those who do the right thing.
KT: A few years ago, the so-called “Culture of Dialogue”, which saw Prime Minister Hun Sen and Mr Sam Rainsy having dinner with their families, seemed to improve the situation. However, it was not long before the two returned to confront one another. What do you think caused this failure?
Mr Kol: The reason is because there was only a motivation but not a real willingness, therefore it was not permanent. The Culture of Dialogue was not created by their willingness to change, instead, only by the idea of a negotiation in order to ease the political parties’ dispute. Both acted in accordance with their political tactics in order to take advantage of one another. There is nothing honest since this culture was born out of fear, which made it not possible to flourish.