Thursday, January 1, 2015

What’s in store for Cambodia in 2015?

Last Sunset at Kep 2014

What’s in store for Cambodia in 2015?

As I watched the last sunset in Kep in 2014, I look forward to welcome the New Year and I hope that 2015 will bring peace, stability and prosperity (to ALL not only to the few riches and powerful ones) to Cambodia.

Despite the prevalence of peace, stability and remarkable economic development (almost 10 per cent per annum between 1998-2008, source World Bank), which has improved the living condition of the general population, critical challenges remain and the glass is still seen half empty, especially with regards to human rights violations, weak democratic governance, social injustice, and inequality between the rich and the poor. Their effects still persist for many Cambodians and more commitments are needed to scale up human security for the common people. As one participant in a public forum on land issues so incisively stated, “All this development is destroying our lives.”

The year 2014 was an intense and harsh year for Cambodia ranging from the protestors uprising to the government crackdown with at least five killed by police bullets on 3 January on Veng Sreng Street, from the government issued orders to shut down Freedom Park to end the political deadlock between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party on 22 July with the signing of the controversial deal, the unprecedented 225,000 deported Cambodian migrant workers in June 2014 by the Thai Junta, the poor result of the national grade 12 passing grade after the new minister of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport banished of the widespread cheating and bribing (with only a quarter of the national exam of almost 90,000 takers passed the first round in August and close to eighteen percent managed to pass the second round in October retest), the sentencing of life in prison of the Khmer Rouge regime’s two most senior surviving leaders Nuon Chea  and Khieu Samphan by the tribunal, the highly contentious accord between the Australian and Cambodian government to relocate island of Nauru refugees in the Kingdom on September, the ongoing intimidation of the dissenters and the enduring prosecution of the eight labor unions presidents and land rights activists, and the recent HIV unusual outbreak in Battambang with more than 200 infected people from babies to monks.

Now what’s in store for Cambodia in 2015?  I believe the buck stops with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. As a political deadlock ended, both powerful leaders have agreed for a new plan for a better Cambodia, which includes amending the constitution and election law as well as to reforming the National Election Committee (NEC).  Like me and many other concerned citizens, we need to do more than ever before to build a better Cambodia and together we need to demand more from our leaders. We need to ask the politicians to do as they have promised and to look at the public policies that are affecting everyday life in Cambodia, such as endemic corruption, land grabbing and a rule of law that is not universally applied.  What we really want is the new development plan that is inclusive and leaves no one out.  After all, the ultimate objective of any meaningful development is to raise the standard of living of the people and end poverty and inequality. The country is facing many confronting socio-economic issues. After toiling on the amendment of the constitution and reforming the NEC (still working on the details), what the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party should address first determine a better Cambodia.  Those confronting issues are many: good governance, transparency, poverty, corruption, social inequality, education reforms, health care reforms, judicial reforms, migrant workers, ending land disputes, social injustice, culture of impunity, human rights abuse, nepotism, and a living wage for all government officials and workers.  

Both political parties play an indispensable role in building a just, free and democratic society by upholding the laws. Leaders must cultivate mutual respect and consideration, so as to create a feasible and reasonable balance of interest, instead of abusing unlimited power. They must have a sense of modesty and moderation instead of having an unquenchable lust for power.  In greed and power, humans lose their soul, freedom, and inner peace to serve others and become victims of their own greed and craving.  Leaders must use their political power in the service of the Cambodian people. They should develop and extend a spirit of mettā (selfless love and good will) and Karunā (compassion) with those who suffer – with special care for the children, the aged, the poor, the weak, the disabled, the vulnerable, the real victims, and the less fortunate. They should eliminate excessive bureaucracy centralization and work together for the good of the people and put national interest forefront instead of pointing fingers at each other and struggling for power.  Their policies and actions must be transparent because transparency would strengthen democracy and promote effectiveness in government.  They must practice what they preach by being accountable to the majority of the population and they must pay more attention to the needs and well being of the people.  If there is real progress and equitable prosperity, it will come from being (responsive to the people) not having (more power, wealth and status).

One Cambodian woman describes, “A good government is a government that does not abuse the people, that gives the people the land back, and that allows people to earn a living.”  The road ahead is rocky and always uphill, but the view from the top is impeccable.  May the New Year 2015 brings lasting peace, stability and real prosperity to ALL the people of Cambodia regardless of their status, their wealth and  their political choice.