The new dialogue between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy bodes well, but strengthening Cambodia’s institutions would do more to help the country than any simple improvement in the personal relations of politicians, top academics said Thursday.
While national reconciliation is important, said historian Iv Chan, deputy director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, better regulation of the country’s civil servants and a strengthened judicial system are the key to healing any societal ills.
“Everyone must follow the law, then the individual differences won’t affect the national interest as we saw before,” he said.
Sociologist Loek Sovann, a teacher at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy both need each other: Sam Rainsy can offer international respectability to Hun Sen, while the prime minister can offer him greater political influence, he said.
He added that the new relationship between the two men may last, if Funcinpec, the CPP’s coalition partner, does not disrupt it.
Since Cambodia’s first democratic elections in 1993, relations between politicians have been erratic, noted Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
A formal arrangement for politicians from different parties to meet regularly to discuss the country’s development might help address this, he said.
“Since 1993, any alliance was unstable because people have seasonal feelings and emotions. They kissed and turned against each other, so a regular mechanism [is needed] to keep dialogue and discussion regular,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, for his part, said the relationship between Sam Rainsy and the prime minister will take time to develop.
“The situation is still fragile. Trust-building cannot take a week to do because mistrust took root over a long time,” he said, adding that Cambodia would do well to move away from personality-oriented politics.
“Now, we have strong political commitment to work in dialogue but each leader would have different personal feelings,” he said. “An individual could feel good today and get angry tomorrow, so this approach is not stable.”