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True ‘Dialogue’ Means Accepting Criticism, Analyst Says

In a rare public display of cooperation to start the "culture of dialogue", Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy and prime minister Hun Sen and their wives participate in the Angkor Sangkranta-Khmer New Year festival in Siem Reap, Cambodia in April 2015.

The “culture of dialogue” being promoted by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party could have negative impacts on the democratic process, critics say, as a potential attempt to silence criticism.

“When there is a switch to this ‘dialogue,’ it seems to run counter to the idea of democracy,” said Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum. “[Prime Minister] Hun Sen recently seems to think that dialogue means that it is impossible to criticize. If there is no criticism, it means it’s not a dialogue; it is an attempt to merge the opposition with the ruling party. If so, we’ll become one party, like in China and Vietnam, which is a danger to the democratic process in our country.”

Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum
Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum

Both sides have touted the “culture of dialogue,” which came from negotiations after the opposition boycott of 2014, after elections the previous year it claims were marred by fraud. But the process has not been smooth.

Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha has remained a vocal critic of the ruling party and its leaders, and Hun Sen has criticized him in return.

Still, both sides issued a statement last week, saying they were committed to dialogue and would refrain from insulting language, threats or intimidation.

Ou Virak said both parties are more mature than in the past. But he said that Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy hoped to appease Hun Sen as the two sides formed the election law and National Election Committee—“and eventually a peaceful handover of power.”

“We’ll see, in 2018, if this art of persuasion works,” he said.