Kingdom’s democracy is still salient


Here, I argue that democracy in Cambodia is not only intact but salient despite the recent political developments in the country criticised by some as threats undermining democracy in the country. Personally, I perceived democracy in Cambodia as not a “perfect” or “ideal” democracy, but a “practical” democracy within its context, since there is no “perfect” democracy in this world, even in the so-called father of democracy. There is no “one-size” democracy fitting all the countries.

Moreover, I contend that a holistic approach is required to understand the politics of a country, rather than just picking up an instance or an incidence to come up with a conclusion and generalise it to the whole system. In Cambodia, one can grasp the overall picture of its politics by understanding its core nucleus of the political system the constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy.

The birth or demise of a political party should not be viewed as the bourgeoning of new system or demise of the existing one. A system is changed only when its core nucleus is irreversibly destroyed. The recent political development in Cambodia is a case in point.

The CNRP-sympathisers have echoed the CNRP decrying the recent development as an effort by the ruling CPP in undermining and possibly dissolving the CNRP, which claimed itself as the “only and biggest” opposition party.

Those CNRP-sympathisers often conflate this move to the demise of democracy in Cambodia. Nevertheless, one should ask why the political system of a country is completely destroyed or totally changed when a political party is weakened or even ceases to exist while the core nucleus of the political system is intact.

There are numerous political parties participating in the coming elections in Cambodia, including the CPP, CNRP and a number of other parties who look to challenge the ruling CPP. These include League for Democracy Party and Sambok Khmum Party (Beehive Social Democratic Party), and so on.

As the commune election draws closer, political heat is soaring as all political parties scramble to attract support from voters and devise a strategy to defeat their rivals. One can expect the rise and fall of various political parties; it is normal.

Apart from the freedom of political association, there is also freedom of speech in Cambodia; The Phnom Penh Post and the Cambodia Daily are the evidence of this democratic practice. The political system of a country is intact regardless of the fate of a political party. Thus, a strong or a weak or even a nonexistent CNRP does not affect the multiparty democracy in Cambodia.

As a scholar and an observer of international politics from a developing country, I am continuously dismayed of the doubled standard and hypocrisy used by the Western world in dealing with developing countries.

While they demand an election in developing countries like Cambodia to be perfectly free and fair as written in any political science textbook, the elections in their own countries are far from the ideal ones that they advocate for in developing countries. Such contradictory practices only serve to undermine their own foreign policy and national interests overseas.

In my view, developed countries in the West and Europe need to be more consistent in their policies towards developing countries and should stop insisting on instilling their values-laden political system.

Particularly, the international community should not target or pick up any particular individuals or political parties because such one-sided interference more often than not aggravates rather than solves the existing problems. Lessons from Libya, Iraq, Syria and many other have taught us well about this.

Not only did democracy fail to burgeon in those countries, but insistence on imposing an “alien” political value or system in a developing country without adequately taking into consideration its historical, social and cultural contexts also ruins the hard-earned peace, stability and development of the country as well as the livelihood of its people through a seemingly endless civil and proxy war.

Moreover, people from developing countries need to see the future of their own countries beyond the issue of democracy. We should be as critical of democracy as we are of its alternatives. Why democracy? Should democracy be viewed as a means or an end? Should countries be categorised as only two opposing groups of countries democratic versus authoritarian ones based solely on Western-centric criteria?

Or should they be grouped into different kinds of democracy such as “liberal”, “illiberal”, “limited”, “contextualised”, “managed”, “backward”, “mature”, “young”, “fragile”, “controlled”, or “consolidated” democracies, etc? What standard of democracy should be used to judge a developing country, if any?

To what extent do the historical, social and cultural contexts of developing countries matter? Should development or democracy come first? And so on. Despite the complexity, it is clear that any one-sided reductionist approach to understand the politics of a country by targeting particular individuals or political parties is not useful; instead, it serves only as a fertile ground for cultivating hatred and destruction.

Yun Kea
Department of International Studies Royal University of Phnom Penh