Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that he would invite opposition leader Sam Rainsy to join a coalition government if the CPP wins the 2008 election, and vowed to reduce the bloated ranks of government advisers.
Speaking at a meeting with donors to launch a new World Bank poverty assessment, Hun Sen said that while the concept of Western democracy requires an opposition, Khmer culture requires useful officials from all quarters to be incorporated into the government.
“I think in the next mandate I will collect more political parties…those who have the ability, I will accept their help,” he said.
“If Sam Rainsy wants to join, I welcome him to work.”
He added that the word “opposition” should no longer be used to describe the Sam Rainsy Party.
“We should not use the word ‘opposition’ to describe them,” he said. “We should use polite words, like out-of-government party and in-government parties…. This is Khmer culture: we need cooperation that will not leave anyone outside the circle who can work for the country.”
He added that if all political parties joined the government, NGOs could remain to offer constructive criticism of policies, thus performing the opposition’s role.
“The Khmer method is a different one: In a democracy when all [political parties] join the government, NGOs will help to oppose and to monitor,” he explained.
Hun Sen also said that superfluous government advisers will be axed. “These people never come to the office and some of them don’t know how to work,” he said of the advisers.
He also urged politicians to make do with the cars they have and refrain from asking him for new luxury vehicles.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said the opposition is keeping the option of joining a post-2008 coalition open, but does not envision a coalition involving all political parties.
“This is not what we are envisioning, as democrats. In the time of [Norodom] Sihanouk’s regime, the then-prince was able to give all his opponents positions and power, but this led to the great crisis. There needs to be an opposition offering different views,” he said.
Son Chhay said the opposition will fight hard in 2008 to gain as many seats in the National Assembly as it can.
“We have been in the opposition for a long time, so maybe it is the turn of the other two parties to be in the opposition,” he said.
Funcinpec spokesman Chea Chanboribo declined comment on Hun Sen’s speech.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said he did not agree that NGOs could replace a political opposition.
“The opposition has access to information that the NGOs do not,” he said. “The opposition can oust the government if the public finds the government’s policies are really bad.”
Leaving only NGOs to offer criticism would leave no checks and balances inside the government.
“In Cambodia, where the judiciary is very weak and the Constitutional Council is very weak, that would be very dangerous,” he said.
But he added that if the 50-plus-one system of absolute majority is adopted, replacing the current two-thirds of lawmakers needed to form a government, coalitions will probably become a thing of the past. “Why would the winning party want to form a coalition with one of the two lesser parties?” he asked.
Independent political consultant Ok Serei Sopheak,said the recent compromises between the opposition and ruling parties could prove beneficial.
“The very positive political developments could be conducive to the carrying out of an extensive reform program,” he said. “The prime minister may now feel confidence and safety to engage in reforms.”