The current threat of a Sam Rainsy-led coup attempt next month and the government’s ongoing efforts to stymie the plan via a crackdown on former opposition party members and supporters are causing both fear and frustration among people. In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times, Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, says the country needs something to be done fast to avoid the worst.
KT: What can you say about the current political situation in Cambodia? And where is it heading?
Mr Kol: Obviously, it is causing fear and anxiety among the Cambodian people. There are no more gatherings in public. During the recent Pchum Ben holiday, people could not even go to pagodas peacefully. Such an atmosphere makes people worried about what will happen given that Mr Sam Rainsy has declared he will return to Cambodia on November 9. The issue is causing anxiety and could lead to depression among citizens. This is very serious, and we have to find a way out. As a political observer with the privilege to communicate comprehensively with the world, I have opportunities to listen to local and foreign officials’ concerns and wants. I am in touch with politicians from both parties without taking sides. I listen to both parties and find that both have different perspectives and definitions of national benefit. For example, the opposition values liberal democracy and anti-power abuse, causing them to only see negativity in Cambodia.
Meanwhile, the ruling party prioritises the economy and development. They
love comparing today with the Khmer Rouge time and boosting economic growth and infrastructural development. The differences in ideology has created disputes, as both parties haven’t sat down and communicated with one another.
KT: How do you describe such political manners?
Mr Kol: To be honest, such political behaviour is a copy from 60 to 70 years ago. It even has some mindset from the Khmer Rouge regime that happened some 30 years ago, including “if you are not with us, you are against us”. If we still possess such mindsets, it is impossible for us to build up a liberal democracy. Meanwhile, the opposition needs discipline. It need to criticise constructively and fairly. The term “opposition” here does not mean to be against everything. It must recognise good things as well. In the meantime, the manner of speaking has also caused problems in Cambodian politics. Politicians should not draw personal grudge into their work.
KT: A few years ago, the “culture of dialogue” alleviated the tension between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Mr Sam Rainsy. Can it be the solution for the current deadlock?
Mr Kol: The culture of dialogue could be a good start to solve current problems. But, it is not enough. We need to build trust in the dialogue, and for that to be possible, we need to change some political manners, including openings for more participation and transparency. We are in need of a political culture which is different from what we have today. Otherwise, it will be the same again and again.
KT: Do you know whether both parties are willing to negotiate with one another?
Mr Kol: As the one coordinating to reach a dialogue, I’ve known there has been intention from both parties for a talk. It has not happened yet because there are some conditions not acceptable by the parties. As time went by, there is an ignition in relations which led to the biggest heat ever within the history of democracy building. As we can see, there are calls for the people and military to oppose to the government and military preparations to counter this. I’ve never heard such things happening before since I was born. People are worried about what is going to happen.
KT: In your own opinion, what should be the solution to the current political deadlock?
Mr Kol: There are both urgent and long-term solutions. The urgent solution involves Mr Kem Sokha’s case. If he is proven to be innocent, he must have complete freedom. And then, something needs to be done about the 118 former CNRP members who were banned from politics. Some will say it was a judicial matter, but I have seen so many times that judicial matters are settled with political interference while countless political prisoners are pardoned. Mr Kem Sokha and the former CNRP members can meet and talk to find a solution with Mr Sam Rainsy and to handle the EBA matter with the international communities.
For the long-term solution, we need a more inclusive political environment and behaviour, with debates over policies and a law that prohibits using personal grudges and matters to gain political benefit.
KT: Can you imagine what would happen on November 9 if nothing is done?
Mr Kol: It could lead to a fragility of peace, yet we cannot foresee the size of the occurrence on that day. November 9 will also be the Water Festival and people from provinces will be coming to the capital, and we have no clue what they will be doing. Everything is completely unpredictable.