Our Culture of Dialogue: Boon not Bane

3 May 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) –The fast-moving political reconciliation and trust building between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy in such a short period of time has intrigued observers of Cambodian politics.
Political dialogue is normally a time-consuming process. It requires patience. It reflects historical experiences and memories.
It develops from voluntary measures to politically binding provisions and then, if possible, to legally binding obligations.
The current political dialogue between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) started last year after the July 22 political agreement between the two parties, ending an almost year-long political deadlock.
A Playing Field for Both Sceptics and Optimists
However, some analysts are sceptical and argue that the newly born “culture of dialogue” remains fragile and opaque. It is part of the “divide and conquer” strategy orchestrated by the ruling party to split the opposition party, especially President Sam Rainsy and Vice-President Kem Soka.
Despite the scepticism, there is room for optimism. For the Cambodians, the “culture of dialogue,” which is also an instrument to consolidate democratic dialogue, gives them hope that one day Cambodia will enjoy national unity and prosperity.
The recent meeting between the two leaders and more than 200 Cambodian workers and students in Kuala Lumpur was a case in point.
The dialogue is not only between the two leaders but also with the people. Such unfolding political development creates a new chapter in the history of modern Cambodian politics.
The “culture of dialogue” helps prevent political polarization, narrowing the vast and growing gap between the two political groups embedded in Cambodian political culture and society.
The “culture of dialogue” also helps to reduce security risks stemming from political transformations and transitions in the Kingdom. It significantly contributes to the building of investors’ confidence.
The “culture of dialogue” creates communication channels between the two parties in an effort to promote mutual understanding and trust. Without trust and confidence, political stability and national unity are impossible.
Personal contacts and frank communication help defuse political tension between the two parties. However, reciprocity, uniformity and credibility are required to sustain such culture of dialogue.
Sincerity, Honesty and Transparency
However, to effectively implement the “culture of dialogue,” both parties must exercise self-restraint and mutual concession based on sincerity and honesty in order to keep the dialogue and confidence-building measures on track.
The dialogue process must be transparent with greater openness and involvement from the public. The leaders of both parties need to develop a public outreach strategy to engage the people in this dialogue process.
A dual-track approach should be simultaneously conducted between the two party leaders and between the leaders and the people. Both parties need to instruct their party members and supporters to respect and observe the spirit of the “culture of dialogue.”
Some, including Sam Rainsy, have suggested setting up a National Congress similar to Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum, in order to promote trust between the government and its people.
CPP and CNRP should establish a joint working group to determine the nature, scope and areas of cooperation to consolidate the process and outcomes of the “culture of dialogue.”
Good for Both Sides
The “culture of dialogue” is a boon as long as there is political will and determination.
Both parties need to promote this culture to their wider constituencies to get their support and participation. More dialogue is needed between the youth of both political camps.
International and national stakeholders should support the spirit of the “culture of dialogue” and work together to ensure the functionality and sustainability of this culture.

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