Stabilizing Cambodia’s Political Turbulence

The Khmer Times, 02 November 2015

Peace is not only the absence of war and conflict, but also the absence of fear, injustice and hunger. There is no perpetual peace without justice, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and strong democratic institutions.
The culture of dialogue founded by the two main political parties – the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – a year ago is dead. Unfortunately, the old culture of political violence and deep political distrust seems to be reemerging. 
Cambodia is on the brink of a renewed political crisis if this trend is not urgently reversed and corrected. 
The assault on two opposition lawmakers by a group of protestors last week in front of the National Assembly showed the ugly side of the Kingdom. It was a serious setback for democracy and the rule of law. 
The CNRP has accused the CPP-led government of orchestrating the violent demonstration against it. 
The protestors had called for the removal of Kem Sokha, vice president of the CNRP, from the position as vice president of the National Assembly. 
Last Friday, the CPP-dominated National Assembly voted to remove Mr. Sokha. The move, which is constitutionally questionable, further deepens the already tense relations  between the two main parties. 
“Demonstrations of force by Hun Sen’s partisans in Cambodia are often stained with violence and are obviously aimed at terrorizing the population,” wrote Sam Rainsy, president of CNRP, on his Facebook page. As he so often seems to be, Mr. Rainsy is in France, far from the political fray here.
But the CPP has denied any involvement in the incident and asserted its stand to find justice for the victims. Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen made a rare television address to the nation to call for the arrest of the culprits.
“Today, I officially call on the authorities to seek the arrest of the culprits who committed violence against the two parliamentarians,” he said.  “We cannot tolerate those who committed the act, no matter who they are […] anyone who commits such a cheap act must be arrested and sentenced at any cost.”
Public Trust 
Public trust is the cornerstone of peace and development. Public trust is the most important pillar upon which legitimacy and sustainability of a political system is constructed.  
If the government fails to bring the perpetrators and their accomplices to justice, it will undermine public trust.  Without public trust, the state-society gap will widen, potentially instigating political and social instability. 
Various forms of political and social polarization caused by contending political and social forces tend to increase the risk or likelihood of violent conflict or the breakdown of political order. 
Cambodia unfortunately has been facing rising political polarization over the years even though the magnitude of polarization has not reached a dangerous level yet. If current trends continue, it will negatively affect long-term peace and development. 
Usually, politicians are the ones responsible for creating such a polarized society.  They are the masterminds behind political group identity construction and across-group alienation. 
There is a chance, although it is small at the moment, to strengthen public trust and deescalate political polarization through improving democratic and accountable state institutions, the rule of law, and making political and social institutions accountable.


Political trust lies in the citizens’ appraisal of the government and its institutions, general policy-making, and individual political leaders who are competent, efficient, fair and honest, and most importantly, who keep their promises. 

The culture of dialogue needs to be revived and sustained. Political bashing, cut-throat power competition, violence and fear do not solve any political problem. Instead, political dialogue, mutual understanding and trust building do.

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