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Cambodia’s political outlook for 2020: Constant, robust reform on the agenda

flickr/David McKelvey - wikimedia/Nov Povleakhena/VOA Khmer

The failure of Sam Rainsy’s plan to overthrow the government via what he calls a “populist uprising” creates a new turning point in Cambodian politics. A new political chapter is unfolding, with a brighter future. The political outlook is rosy in 2020.

The ruling elites have become confident that the existential threat to the power status quo has been significantly neutralised and minimised. Now the government under the leadership of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is turning its focus to internal reforms and increasing its international engagement.

Constant and robust reform is the most important source of legitimacy and stability and, more importantly for the ruling CPP, to maintain its power base. To win the support and heart of the people, the CPP-led government must deliver reform results and fairly distribute the fruits of growth. From now, it needs to focus more on the quality of growth in addition to the quantity of growth.

Since 2015, because of the worry of a “colour revolution” orchestrated by Sam Rainsy and his clique, time and resources have been spent on counter and preventive measures. Now the storm is over and the government can focus its resources and thoughts on how to effectively reform public sector and support the private sector to increase its production and productivity.

National reconciliation process is going to positively evolve from next year after Kem Sokha and his faction demonstrated and affirmed their political will to not use violence or provoke a regime change. Such political assurance is the bottom line of future political reconciliation.

Democratic processes will positively evolve as political trust between the CPP and the main opposition party can be developed and strengthened. The CPP, especially Prime Minister Hun Sen, successfully implemented a “win-win” policy with the Khmer Rouge leaders in the late 1990s. Based on this experience, the CPP is willing to work with the opposition party to build the country together.

The year 2020 will be the year of national reconciliation and unity along with dynamic and robust reforms, as well as proactive foreign policy. Anti-corruption campaigns will gain new momentum next year as the government continues its “cleaning up” or “institutional surgery” policy. New young faces are expected to be further empowered and enabled to take the helm of some public institutions.

Improving the business and environment climate is critical for Cambodia to attract more foreign direct investment. So far, the main issue has been “corruption” – which has become more systemic. Some have even said that corruption has been so entrenched in the Cambodian public institutions that it needs “surgery” to deal with such rampant and systemic corruption practices.

Another governance issue is the lack of policy coordination and implementation. This is mainly because of the lack of leadership, political will, conflicting institutional and personal interests, as well as institutional capacity. There are overlapping areas of responsibility between and among some state agencies.

The proliferation of ministries is part of the problem. The politics of accommodation have been used to counter external threats. Now the sources of external threat have been remarkably reduced. Hence there is less space for the politics of accommodation and clientelism.

The key reason leading to the collapse of many predominant political parties in different parts of the world is over-confidence and the ignorance of emerging realities. Social transformation and people’s aspirations need to be constantly reflected in policy design and implementation.

The CPP-led government must do more to deliver what it has promised – that is to build a peaceful, prosperous, sustainable, resilient, fair and just society. Social justice is the foundation of long-term peace and development.

On the foreign policy front, Cambodia will host the Asia-Europe Meeting to further strengthen partnership between Asia and Europe for peace, sustainable development and inclusive growth. Cambodia is also committed to advancing multilateralism and rules-based international order to counter the trend of protectionism, right-wing populism and unilateralism.

Economic security is national security. The recent efforts by the Cambodian government to diversify its economic partners and expand its export markets are critical to strengthening economic security.

An economic diversification strategy will gain new steam in 2020 because the Kingdom is going to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China and is exploring the possibility of negotiating another FTA with the Republic of Korea. Other potential economic partners with which Cambodia is interested in reaching bilateral FTAs are Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

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