03 February 2015
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Last week’s extraordinary party congress clearly and substantially demonstrated the political will and commitment of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to deeply reform itself after a serious setback in the last general election in July 2013. It is not too late for a reality check and institutional surgery for this longtime ruling party. CPP has a strong chance of restoring public trust and confidence.
Cambodia is afflicted with the cancer of nepotism, corruption, and ignorance. In the last three decades, corruption has become systemic and endemic. It is deeply rooted into the whole party and government systems. Some may argue that corruption has become an integral part of Cambodian culture, and is impossible to root out unless there is a complete power transformation and a strong social movement.
Nepotism is widespread across government ministries from the national to the local levels. Some ministries have become a family business. Children and relatives of these ministers have been brought in to consolidate power and monetary interests. This creates serious public institutional inefficiency and injustice.
Cambodian leaders are ignorant of the fact that social dynamics have been changing rapidly. Public distrust and discontent has been on the rise due to the inefficiency of the government institutions, a weak and corrupt judicial system, a culture of impunity, mismanagement of natural resources, deforestation, overfishing, land disputes, widening income inequality and social exclusion.
Cambodia is confronting two main risks: class struggle and external intervention. Social class struggle is driven by the rapidly widening development gap between the urban and rural areas, increasing tensions between the rich and the poor over social status, and access to resources.
The possible alliance among the workers, peasants and intellectuals could pose serious threats to the power status quo in the Kingdom. In such scenario, Cambodia may be thrust into another significant political change. History shows that power transition in Cambodia has never been smooth and peaceful. It is therefore necessary to implant a culture of peace and tolerance in society.
Cambodian politics has suffered from the intervention of external countries. Without national unity and strength characterized by political consensus and inclusive socio-economic development, Cambodia is not resilient to external pressures and changing power dynamics, especially in the Asia-Pacific.
The road ahead for the CPP is to change the direction of such political and social dynamics. First, it needs to set action plans to reform at all levels. Decisive, bold and transformative leadership is required to deliver concrete results. It is not a treatment; it is a surgery. It takes some risks to go through this process. And the recovery will be painful and time consuming.
Secondly, the ruling party must strengthen its bureaucratic capacity. Merit-based recruitment and a reward system need to be introduced and strengthened. Salary reform for public servants is the key to retaining talent within state institutions. Recognition and justice are fundamental to public human resource management.
Thirdly, CPP needs to encourage and motivate its party members to embrace change. It needs to invest in creating a new generation of leadership with an open mindset, high sense of reflection and self-realization, and who are firm in value and strategic position but flexible in tactical approach and communication. They should also be ready to listen to diverse arguments, and have the capacity to select the best solutions to the problems and issues facing Cambodian society.
Lastly, the party has to live with uncertainty and be ready to face future challenges and risks. In the worse case scenario, CPP may not maintain its power after the next election. In such a case, CPP should have an appropriate strategy to return back stronger. Unity within the party is crucial. Political leadership, bureaucratic capacity, and strategic action plan are the cornerstones of a resilient and strong party.