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‘Culture of Dialogue’ Needs Constant Tending, Analysts Say

Chheang Vannarith, a lecturer at Leeds University, in the United Kingdom.
Chheang Vannarith, a lecturer at Leeds University, in the United Kingdom.

Cambodian politicians from both the ruling party and the opposition continue to point to a “culture of dialogue” that has developed in political negotiations since July 2014. However, analysts say this new environment will need constant nurturing if it is to spread across the country’s political system.

Chheang Vannarith, a lecturer at Leeds University, in the UK, said such a culture existed in the early 1990s, leading to a power-sharing agreement between Prime Minister Hun Sen and his then-political rival, Prince Norodom Ranarridh.

That culture has changed now, he said, because the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party is not using it to share power, but rather to make changes from within the legislature. “The opposition is utilizing the parliament to work with the government on reforms,” he said.

For members of VOA Khmer’s online audience, like Ren Neouth, the new approach to dialogue is “an active exchange of opinions, ideas and concepts targeting problem solving.”

In a recent interview with VOA Khmer, Rescue Party President Sam Rainy said it’s time to eliminate Cambodia’s culture of violence and to “adopt the new culture.”

The practice of dialogue has been viewed with skepticism by some, including Norodom Ranariddh himself, who recently said Sam Rainy’s notion of dialogue should not be trusted.

Sok Leang, a civil servant in Cambodia, praised the efforts by both parties to build a positive and interactive dialogue. But he thinks it will take time to harness this culture, and the two leaders need to constantly nurture it.

“They have to explain to people what it is and how it works,” he said in an interview with VOA Khmer. “Only when people understand it and practice it among themselves can this culture take firm root.”

Chheang Vannarith said both leaders appear to have the political will to continue dialogue, but grassroots and local government engagement is also pivotal. “Without local engagement, the practice of dialogue may not lead to many positive outcomes,” he said.