Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Cambodian Civil Society: Challenges and Prospects

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

Nick Platt

Thank you very much. Now who would like to ask the first question from the audience?

Question from the Audience

I'm a student of international affairs at Columbia University. I was wondering, when you say civil society, and you did mention labor unions, NGOs and the media, but I was wondering if you could elaborate a little what you mean when you say civil society. And what are they, just the advocacy groups, the public information groups, or are they other things than the roles that you envisioned when you say civil society. Thank you.

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

I think this is, again, that’s why I say--when I start my presentation--I contextualize it in a Cambodian way. And I think that’s very important because we never have a consensus on what would be--what a definition would be--an operational definition of the concept. And I think it’s always dangerous to look beyond the conventional understanding of what civil society is. And we debate about this. The first workshop we started, we debated about what we mean by civil society. And I think a lot of us agreed. Everything can be included except, one, the government. Two, political parties. And third, business. And the reason why, for example, the government and political parties, because they are all for power. Number two, businesses, they’re all for profits. And those who are not for power and profits--they are part of civil society. I think that’s how we contextualize it in Cambodia.

Nick Platt

Kao, would you like to add to that? Fine. You had a question?

Gloria Kins

I’m Gloria Kins, Washington International UN Diplomatic Times. From observing our own elections, which was not just power politics, but big bucks--who had the most money for advertising and communication throughout the United States and the international community--my question is, who are the big businessmen in Cambodia? How are they oriented? And who would they reach out to in the international funding world of big business, major corporations, from the Western world that will help influence a proper election?

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

Difficult question. As a former government and former Secretary General of the ruling party, I can say that it was not the same spirit in Cambodia as in America. For instance, the Royalist party came from the struggles, you know, as a background from the Thai borders during the struggle and coming in town in ’93 to run election without any money. So it was some time work without money. Because it’s not necessary, they support you. But they can not stand anymore the others. So all the world has been concentrating to your party because it’s just like a punishment vote for someone and we gain credit.

But you are right. You are right in the second term. During the ’98 elections, when we talk about high corruption in Cambodia, when we talk about lack of transparencies. And we talk about like a rule of law promotes this kind of what we call a tycoon, a tycoon spirit. It means the big guys in Cambodia. We have a lot of money, we don’t know where it comes from, the money. But they are there. And they make some illegal business with some compromising with leadership from the ruling parties. And so this kind of situation is quite frequent in Cambodia. And you are right. Some political leaders have been promoted and supported by this group of tycoons. But the reason that civil society, NGOs, a lot of NGOs have now focused on an anticorruption, what we say, operation. It’s very difficult when you are, not yourself strong enough to contain the situation, that political party have been corrupt. Of course elections have some fraud too. That’s the reason why Kim Hourn asks donors to be very--to pay attention, to promote NGOs together to work at an election because civil society actors could be observers, could contribute to rectify that the party that makes a lot of money can corrupt the waters. That’s one part of the answer.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

Thank you. I think that’s correct. Let me also just add to His Royal Highness. I think most big business, individuals, businessmen in Cambodia, basically are tycoons. They have come to the position where they are today usually through corruption and some are very much involved in illegal activities. And I think this is very clear. In Cambodia, there are no regulations on election funding. You can support anyone, any political party you like. You can spend as much as you want on election. So I think in that regard we are still far away from real democratic practice, particularly on election.