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The battle to represent the will of the people

Cheang Sokha / Khmer Times Share:
Suos Yara. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Suos Yara is an up and coming official with the ruling CPP. He is a lawmaker for Preah Vihear province and a spokesperson for his party. He spoke to Khmer Times’ Cheang Sokha about the dissolution of the opposition CNRP and the strategy of the ruling party ahead of the general election next year.

KT: The opposition claims the dissolution of the CNRP betrays the will of the people. But the people had voted 55 members of the opposition to defend their rights, which the opposition did not do. As such, would you say that it is the opposition who betrayed the voters?

Yara: I do agree with this. We have to define ourselves. That is why I myself, from the beginning, have strived to define who and what is a politician and what being a politician entails. Being a politician is representing the will of the collective people. Those elected into office as members of parliament have been chosen or elected by the people. So these people represent the will of the people in the parliament.

The MPs are not representing the will of the people on the street. They represent their electorate who put them there, to fight for their rights, their needs and so forth within the boundaries of the law and not outside of the law in the streets. Sadly, this has been in the case since 1998 when after the elections, the losing side takes to the streets instead of getting on with the task of formulating or debating laws, talking about issues which affect the people, the country and so forth.

Given the attitude and the characteristics of parliamentarians under the now defunct CNRP, they are the ones who have really betrayed the will of the people by boycotting parliament sessions and by taking to the streets. Why? Laws cannot be debated and passed on the streets. There is rule of law and the place for this is the National Assembly, not the streets or overseas.

The law says that elected MPs have to take their sacred oath under the roof of the Royal Palace. Did they? They went out and took the oath in front of the Angkor Wat. So before they can even start representing the rights and will of the people, which the former CNRP parliamentarians speak about often, they, on the contrary, had a head start in betraying their electorate from the very first day.

So first in 2013, they did not take the oath in the Royal Palace, they did it in front of Angkor Wat, setting the stage for their continued acts of betrayal to their constituents and their electorate.

Second, whether one is representing the opposition or otherwise, one has to be a nationalist and a patriot. So being that, we have to express ourselves by being a Khmer, being a Cambodian citizen, being a representative, but alas, this was not the case of the CNRP and its members who colluded with foreign powers and foreign ideology.

They could not even design their own political platform. They have betrayed the will of the people already because they say what they do is the will of Khmers, but their own political ideology and their political platform were designed by foreigners. So how could anyone defend this? This is how they have already betrayed their own legitimacy, their own legacy of being a strong opposition for the future system of democracy and to be strong within society. So on the first day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day, they were and still are repeating the same mistakes and continue unabated.

The last factor, which is the most serious, is what could be seen in other countries where the opposition was abolished through legal means. They never went out and travelled around the world asking foreigners to put sanctions on their own country. This is naturally wrong. You can protest everything under the rule of law in your own state, but you cannot defame your own country. You can defame your own body and yourself, but you cannot defame your own country and yet claim to be a nationalist and a patriot.

Through these actions, they have become their own worst enemies. When everyone says Cambodia is a beautiful country, with a rich heritage, one which is culturally respected, we have a group of people who claim to be nationalists and patriots whose actions are contrary to the rule of law and the natural rules of being a patriot and nationalist. Cambodia has set high standards and in fact has been shining with its efforts in national reconciliation. Which country in the world can show and perform or claim the same model of national reconciliation than Cambodia?

Cambodia does it best. When the different army factions, soldiers, could sleep under one camp without pulling a trigger: this is really showing an example to the world, and you never see that happening elsewhere. So the accusations that CPP is the one betraying the people’s will is incorrect as the CPP is defending the country against forced colour revolutions and regime change. The flames of possible colour revolutions in reality started from within the opposition, from inside their own house aided by external forces.

KT: Would it be right to say that politics and politicians in Cambodia are not yet mature?

Yara: I do agree with you. The maturity of the politicians has to come in the way the country and the people harmonise and the way they link the language between the rule of law and the language of the people. When people have that kind of maturity, then they will understand what political maturity is and only then could they represent the will of the people correctly. The CPP has learned this at a very early stage and that is why today, it is still the backbone of the country, the party which keeps the country united and sovereign.

KT: Do you expect another strong opposition against the CPP?

Yara: This is a country of freedom. This is a country of liberal democracy so whichever party comes under the rule of law is free to contest elections. Of course people have the right to express their own will and as such, they find their own strategy on how to win over the others. This is a country of free market competition and within the realms of politics, I hope we can have a free and fair election and also a stronger, but importantly, responsible opposition party. When I say for us to have a stronger opposition party does not mean an extremist party and it also does not mean a populist party. But any party which is created to serve the people with different ideas is welcome as competition and is always welcome to keep us on our toes.

KT: Since 1998, almost every election had a problem with the results being accepted.

Yara: I could agree with this. The culture of protests after the results of an election have been announced has become an epidemic now. What is this culture? You are either happy with it or you need to live with it or you need to stop it, so we have a solution and we have progress because from a fighting faction, the factions became a political party. How many people were killed during the campaign in 1993? Quite a lot, possibly close to a thousand people. In 1998, this numbered less than 400. In 2003, less than fifty and then in 2008, only five deaths. In 2013, there were none and yet the opposition won 55 seats. So even if this culture of protests happens, we could be happy with the result of the election as each time it becomes more credible and more competitive. The system and the laws have been adapted to suit the situation of the country. You cannot use one law for more than twenty years. You need some correction because the law is not perfect, it needs some correction and amendments to keep evolving and improving in the process. So one law which called for a two thirds majority within the constitution was essential to raise and build the peace and trust for ten years. However, after the initial ten-year period, it became a little fragile and so we had to readjust and it became a law of fifty plus one or a simple majority, as practised in most parts of the world. You cannot always find a two third majority consensus to decide on the fate of the nation, but you can easily find fifty plus one with or without a coalition. That is progress.

In addition, because of the amendment of laws we could see the deadlock after the election reduced. Even if it starts and exists for a while, overall it has been reduced and accordingly, the risk to the life of the people and other risks are being reduced. This is why we have been happy with this methodology and practice. This has resulted in Cambodia being very pragmatic when adapting new laws. Before, out of fear, people in the elite class always flew out of the country one or two days after the election. But now they prefer to stay in the country. Now they just go wherever they like and they think this country is stable, so this is the trust that we have put in our system and this is how we need to evolve and make it better. So that is why a hiccup in a system of democracy is also to us another opportunity for change, another opportunity for reforms.

KT: Will the government somewhere along the road change the electoral system from the proportionate representation to the majoritarian system?

Yara: Now we are somewhat moving along midway between the two forms of electoral system. But at this moment, the proportionate system is still viable and doable and has immense benefits to the whole country, especially at the ground level. Thus to change it immediately, it has to be accepted by the public and this is unlikely in the short to medium term. I think we need more time.

Currently, proportionate representation is still necessary and it also enables us to readjust our model of democracy and to have the time to think about a well-guaranteed system in and outside, so that in the future, we don’t need to see the people protest the results of every election. We don’t want it to become a culture of protests or a bad habit which cannot be discarded. Eventually, one day in the future, I think we will have a kind of new hybrid system whereby proportionate representation and a majoritarian system could be implemented in what we could call a “modern proportionate representation system”.

KT: Cambodia seen from the inside is different from what Cambodia is when seen from the outside. From outside, it is a very bleak picture. Once inside, when you set foot into Cambodia, it is very different. Can’t the government do more to change or enhance its image and perception?

Yara: Yes. We are in the stage of building the image of our country. We have two examples as to why there are several perceptions of Cambodia. We have the people who work in the tourism promotion sector who always advertise Cambodia in a very positive way, a country with a glorious history, immense natural resources and a beautiful coastal line, architectural and cultural wonders and monuments. Then we have another team who is on the same side, but who is running the demining campaign.

The demining campaign team cares about our country and its people, but because of their tasks and responsibilities, they will say inside and outside the country and indeed to the world, that we have to demine the rice fields, we have to demine the tourism sites and so forth. You see the two, it is important to understand the objectives of the project. If you are working for tourism, you have to say good things about the country. If you want the demining projects to raise funds and capital, you have to show the risks. This is nature. Don’t blame them and question them as to why they painted a negative picture about Cambodia’s landmines. This is simply because it exists and we have to raise funds. We cannot fund with our own budget alone and as such, we need the participation of international donors and funds. So these two campaigns are already a contradiction within their own nature and character. Thus, people are the same.

Cambodia in reality and Cambodia in the news. Cambodia in the news is one thing we have to admit we have very limited experience with, in terms of dealing with the press and networking to carry out public relations exercise for Cambodia in the world because our budget is limited. It is meant to serve our people’s need, so the budget to launch a propaganda campaign and the budget to launch a networking or a public relation campaign is really very small. I have to admit maybe the government and the leadership may need to rethink how we could manage to change, but not a change in our system because we are on the right track. What we need to change is the public image and perception in the world. I think the best way forward is to go with public relations and good press, so we need to network with all of these and the press is part of the network and the system.

KT: So, perception is still a big issue?

Yara: To have the right perception, we need someone to do the talking. We need a real person to talk. We cannot have different populist politicians doing the talking. Populist politicians advertising when they carry out the wrong action may result in the opposite result – more degradation in terms of public perception. That is why we need a good ambassador.

KT: Since 1993 and even now, the government is facing a difficult and arduous task in explaining itself, in giving information, whether to the press or the diplomatic community or the whole world at large whereas the opposition reacts quickly in this aspect. What would you do to address this to change the people’s perception of what is happening in the country?

Yara: It is important to send the message through the right channel, so creating networking channels through the right means and with an effective, coherent and cohesive PR programme are keys. And a proper PR plan is one where the government reacts quickly, efficiently and in a timely manner to the right channel.

KT: Are you concerned about the possibility of sanctions?

Yara: We have to be concerned because we are a responsible party and are responsible for leading the government, so the responsibility we have is mainly to the welfare of our people. Inevitably, if the time comes, they will understand what is the real value of our promise, for our accountability to the people. Sanction does not mean anything for the populist politicians, but responsible politicians, by nature, are always finding ways and means to keep moving forward while ensuring minimal impact on the people.

KT: Do you believe that for democracy to progress one has to be realistic and adaptive?

Yara: I have one comment. I know your concern and your questions need to be addressed. We have one comment. Do not love Cambodia more than Cambodians. We Cambodians love ourselves and know what we have to do what is good for ourselves more than those who are always giving comments and trying to interfere in our system and affairs. So to those foreigners, I say: don’t act as Cambodians more than the Cambodians themselves.

KT: Would you possibly be setting up a lobby group to lobby the corridor of the EU and US?

Yara: A lobby corridor is not in our habit, but the leadership is the one who has to think about it, but at this moment I think we have to build our own values, build our own dream, and build our own identity. These are our priorities.

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