Political deal to allow Cambodia to focus on development

Supporters of the National Rescue Party stage a demonstration over the 2013 election results in Cambodia. The party has agreed to drop its boycott of parliament and work with the ruling Cambodia People’s Party. Photo by: JacquiCollis / CC BY-NC

After a year of uncertainty and instability — both political and economic — following the 2013 election, Cambodia may now have a genuine chance of charting its development progress on the right path with a crucial political deal agreed upon by the country’s two warring political parties.

The opposition National Rescue Party, has agreed on Tuesday to drop its boycott of parliament — amid protests of electoral fraud in last year’s vote — and work with the ruling Cambodia People’s Party. The move is expected to reinstate 55 opposition lawmakers (45 percent of the total) which walked out on the opening session last September.

For development and aid organizations working in the Southeast Asian nation, the deal is definitely a step in the right direction, and even more so if stakeholders really start pushing the government on accountability.

“This is not the first time that we have this kind of situation in Cambodia. But I think the big difference this time [is] … that people are now demanding much more from the government than before,” European Union Ambassador to Cambodia Jean-François Cautain told Devex. “This is definitely a good development, but there are more things needed to be done.”

He added that the country, after the conclusion of the political deal — at least in the eyes of the world — can now finally focus on development.

“Under this condition, [they] will work together on key issues of Cambodia. They can do that in the national assembly. I’m not sure if they will agree on everything but at least what’s important is they have now a stronger position. The opposition can scrutinize and question officials about policies, investment plans and development policies,” Cautain noted. “We are quite hopeful it will lead to a more responsible attitude to development.”

The EU official shared that Brussels is allotting around 410 million euros ($552 million) for the 2014 to 2020 funding cycle for Cambodia, three times as much as in 2007-2013. The money will focus on education, governance and natural resource management, among other priority areas.

The Cambodian economy has been growing significantly in the past few years following decades of conflict. Despite this growth, however, the country remains one of the poorest nations in the region and is heavily dependent on foreign aid — almost half of the national budget.

So will this political truce pave the way for sustainable development and local ownership that will lessen that dependency in the future?

Local NGO Khmer Institute for National Development founder and ANSA-EAP country network fellow San Chey argued the deal may be misleading to cover up bigger underlying issues, including the controversy over the country’s election commission, reportedly heavily politicized and linked with the ruling party.

“We’re concerned that CPP may use its strategy to destroy CNRP before the next election,” the KIND founder said, sharing the instance when CPP teamed up with fellow political party, FUNCINPEC that saw the former overpowering the latter. “We’re concerned on the argument between CPP and CNRP when the government [will not respond] to citizens.”

Chey recommended that national members from both parties involved to work openly with local groups and civil society organizations on government program monitoring to “ensure the quality of the services and performance and to hold them accountable and responsive.”

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.