Political Tensions Are Hampering Development

The Khmer Times, 28 December 2015

Cambodia has done rather well on economic development and poverty reduction with an average annual GDP growth rate of 7 percent over the last decade but it scores low on political reforms and institutional building.  Corruption, economic inequality, social injustice, and environmental degradation are some of the symptoms of bad governance.
Moreover, the ongoing political tensions between the two main political parties – the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – has hindered the progress of economic reform. Domestic and foreign investors are becoming more cautious in investing or expanding their investment in the Kingdom.
The “Culture of Dialogue” initiated in July 2014 by the two parties has ebbed and flowed over time. The political tensions that erupted in November have marred the process of political reconciliation between the two parties. The lack of political trust has become the key stumbling block in having any effective dialogue between the two parties.
The brief meeting between Sar Kheng, vice president of the CPP, and Kem Sokha, acting president of the CNRP, early this month was a significant step to restore political trust and reinvigorate the culture of dialogue between the two parties. However, there is no breakthrough yet in normalizing the relationship between the two parties.
Unless there is an effective mechanism to reduce political tensions and build political trust between the two parties, Cambodia’s political outlook remains uncertain. Cambodia may face a new round of political and social instability. Hence confidence building measures and preventive diplomacy are required.
The political tension has slowed down reform progress. Key national issues such as corruption and the depletion of natural resources have not been effectively addressed. Cambodia was ranked 160 out of 177 countries by Transparency International and ranked 134 in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” report in 2014.
Economic inequality between urban and rural areas is widening. Poverty rates in rural areas remain high. Rural poverty leads to high levels of internal and cross border labor migration, which in turn generates more social problems such as human trafficking and labor exploitation.
Deforestation, land confiscation, forced evictions and labor disputes are other development issues and challenges. The study by the local nongovernmental organization Licadho shows that more than a half million people have been affected by land acquisitions by powerful individuals since 2000.
The government needs to speed up robust reform of public institutions, particularly in anti-graft and sustainable management of national resources. Both parties need to work together to resolve development challenges and social issues.
Restoring sincere and open political dialogue and consultation, building political trust and confidence, and creating joint working groups between the two parties are essential for long-term peace, stability and development. A favorable political environment helps speed up reform progress to deliver concrete results for the people. Political leaders and bureaucrats need to put national interests above party and group interests. Political parties need to gradually move from an absolute zero-sum game to a relative positive-sum game through trust building mechanisms.
To develop the country, Cambodia needs to develop strong political leadership with long-term vision, to give values to non-partisan technocrats, to professional diplomats, and invest in innovation and entrepreneurship.

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