The Khmer Times, 26 December 2016
For the global community, 2016 was the unthinkable year. Brexit and Donald Trump’s election victory have been shaking the world’s systems and order. Terrorism has haunted many parts of the world.
No country is immune to terrorist threats. The world is going through a phase of populist nationalism, protectionism and extremism.
For Cambodia, 2016 has been a year of mixed output upset by the ebb and flow of the relationship between the two main political parties.
The emerging challenges relate to social and economic issues stemming from unsustainable natural resources management and corruption.
Social justice and freedom of speech is the main social issue as well. The killing of well known and well respected public intellectual Kem Ley, in which justice has not been found, has stirred public distrust of the justice system.
Domestic politics is ugly and messy with significant regression on human rights and democracy. Political parties are consolidating their position ahead of the commune elections next year and general elections in 2018.
The political compromise between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), with the royal pardon of interim CNRP president Kem Sokha and the release of his subordinate, has created a new political environment more suited for political dialogue between the two main parties.
However, there is no sign of advancing and institutionalizing the political dialogue into a permanent mechanism to handle future political tensions and conflicts. It is perhaps just a temporary political modus operandi to test each other’s stand.
The CPP is striving to gain political points through weakening the leadership and organizational structure of the CNRP and speeding up reforms to win the hearts of the people, which in turn will help secure its victory in the upcoming elections. The CPP has the political will to reform state institutions, but things are moving very slowly.
The CNRP is galvanizing its supporters at home and abroad by promising change and giving hope. Meanwhile, it also tries to inform the public that the leadership structure of the party remains strong and that the unity between party leader Sam Rainsy and Sokha is unbreakable.
The main agenda for the upcoming elections relates to social and economic issues such as rampant corruption, widening inequality, inefficient public services and justice-associated issues.
The people are concerned about factors directly affecting their livelihoods and well-being. They are looking for leaders who have clear policies, strategic action plans and leadership that delivers concrete results.
Specific issues of concern are decent wages for factory workers, decent incomes for farmers, social protection for the vulnerable and marginalized groups and prolonged action on deforestation.
Although there is political turbulence and tension, economic performance remains strong with a growth rate of about 7 percent, making Cambodia the second fastest growing economy in Asean after Myanmar.
However, the development gap between the rich and the poor, between urban and rural areas, is worrisome.
State institutions and political leadership are accountable for inclusive and sustainable development.
On the foreign policy front, Cambodia made some remarkable achievements.
The diplomatic highlights were the state visits of Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith in June, Chinese President Xi Jinping in October and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in December.
Prime Minister Hun Sen made two state visits to Timor Leste in August and to Vietnam in December. Also, Cambodia hosted the 9th Summit of the Cambodia-Lao PDR-Vietnam Development Triangle and the 2nd Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation group in December.
Cambodia’s foreign policy has become more proactive and robust. Economic pragmatism and hedging are the core strategies for a small country.
To serve its national interests, which are defined in terms of economic development and poverty reduction, peace and stability and national identity and prestige, Cambodia is expanding and diversifying its strategic partners, deepening bilateral relations and strengthening multilateral institutions.
Living in an increasingly uncertain and competitive world, Cambodia needs leaders who know how to transform the international environment into a source of national development and who can effectively internalize national forces to grasp opportunities and deter risks and insecurity.
Looking ahead, Cambodia needs the right political chemistry to overcome the shortcomings and challenges and to generate opportunities for the people. National reconciliation and unity are the foundations of long-term peace and development.