King Norodom Sihamoni releases a symbolic dove of peace at a public ceremony at the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh for the 51st anniversary of Cambodian independence from French rule on November 9, 1953. Sihamoni was greeted at the monument by 50,000 where he lit the eternal flame representing the Cambodian spirit. Dignitaries included Chea Sim, President of the Senate, Heng Samrin, acting head of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Hun Sen, co-Ministers of Interior, police and military commanders, ambassadors, diplomats, students and others. The celebrations lasted three days, November 9-11, with fireworks in front of the Royal Palace and live concerts at public places every night.
There have been many developments in this country in the last few moths. We have
had the reinstatement of a so-called "Package Government" created through
an "Additional Constitution". Once again in Cambodia we are hearing the
catch phrase declaration of "a war against corruption" by our own prime
minister. The anticipated retirement of our well-known monarch Norodom Sihanouk was
realised as was the appointment of a new king. The plan to strip parliamentary immunity
from the opposition leader and two of its members fortunately was not realised, but
certainly was grounds for concern. As can be seen from these examples alone, the
situation in Cambodia has not improved and the people in power continue to abuse
Cambodia's unreliable and confused system of governance for their own personal benefit
to the detriment of Cambodia's people and society.
The Prime Minister's war against corruption will remain just "a paper tiger"
initiative: It lacks any teeth to make the changes necessary to combat corruption
in Cambodia. In spite of all the rhetoric, there have still been no attempts to establish
and strengthen the legal framework and related institutions or to create an effective
anti-corruption commission. These are the first basic steps this government must
be seen to make if it expects us to take its talk about the "war against corruption"
with any sense of credibility. Without these steps the basic principles of liberal
democracy can not be implemented. Parliament must urgently be strengthened, especially
the role of its member Parliamentarians to oversee the government, either through
proper monitoring of the government's activities, or through parliamentary debates
and question times, or through investigations into allegations of corruption against
the government. And above all opposition party members and parliamentary committees
should be given due support and respect as opposed to the current situation where
they are constantly being threatened or coerced.
It is critical that the ruling parties recognize and respect the rights of opposition
MPs. After all, they share with these opposition MP's positions within the parliament
and certain roles, such as some chairmanship positions, within parliamentary committees
and other leadership roles. I believe that it could be of great benefit for opposition
MP's to be officially allowed to form a shadow cabinet. In this way, they would be
made more effective in their role of opposition members and be able to monitor the
government and its activities in a way which would ensure increased transparency
and accountability, which currently is desperately lacking.
Besides the need for a functional parliament, we also need to create a system of
checks and balances, especially within our institutions which are currently in desperate
need of being strengthened. Our new King must immediately take control of the Supreme
Council of Magistracy and the Supreme Council of Defense to ensure the independence
and neutrality of these powerful bodies. The government must work hard to reform
its existing administration, which has been applied since 1980 and is based on a
centralized regime, and update it with a system, as mentioned in our 1993 liberal
democratic constitution, where decentralization of power is adopted with clear instructions
on the duties and responsibilities of civil servants given out at all levels of its
administration to ensure that they understand their priority role, which is to provide
reliable services to the people with honesty and accountability.
For Cambodia, as can be seen, liberal democracy is not just about securing the people's
dignity and protecting people from all kinds of human rights abuses, but is about
much more. It is about creating a system that will be sustainable, reliable and accountable
if we want Cambodia to have lasting peace and survival. Certainly, we must never
forget the hard lessons we learnt from our sad past: The civil war caused by social
division and followed by a foreign invasion dragged Cambodia into great suffering
and destruction in the last few decades. All Cambodian political leaders therefore
must continue to respect the Paris Peace Accords which were based on the adoption
and the full implementation of liberal democratic principles. We agreed then that
only democracy could help to bring unity back into our nation, and with national
unity we can rebuild our country towards prosperity and social harmony.
Son Chhay is a member of Parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party.
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