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US Congressional Budget Compromise a Good Lesson for Cambodia, Observers Say

WASHINGTON DC - The US Congress has averted the “fiscal cliff” by passing a number of budget agreements, and Cambodian politicians and observers say the experience is a good example of compromise between two sides.

Cambodian politics are bitterly divided between the ruling party and the opposition, with opposition lawmakers long complaining they do not have their say on the floor of the National Assembly.

But the 11th-hour negotiations between the Democrats and Republicans of the US Congress should serve as an example, Cambodian analysts and lawmakers said.

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama signed into a law a bill that was aimed at averting a series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts, following weeks of negotiations between Congressional leaders and the office of the president. In it are tax cuts for individuals who earn less than $400,000 a year and an extension of unemployment benefits. However, the bill also means that more negotiations over the US budget will be underway for at least two more months.

Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and head of the National Assembly’s finance committee, told VOA Khmer the compromise was a “necessary step” for the US economic system, which was at the heart of the global financial crisis in 2008.

“In my view, if the United States can prepare a firm tax plan, it is an experience and a lesson for other countries,” he said by phone on Thursday.

Yim Sovann, a lawmaker and spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the US agreement, which continued until a deadline for automatic tax increases and spending cuts, was possible because US lawmakers prioritized the national interest and the interests of the global community—something Cambodia could learn from.

“This is a culture of democracy, which should be followed as an example, because when all the parties consider keeping national interests high, it is solvable,” he said. “In prioritizing the national interest, differences in political views within individual parties is normal; unlike Cambodia, where the ruling party and the opposition have never found a solution.”

He pointed to the exile of the party leader, Sam Rainsy, who faces 12 years in prison sentences if he returns to Cambodia, and the lack of discussion on Cambodia’s 2013 budget as poor examples of political cooperation. In each instance, no compromise was reached, he said. Opposition fears persist that continued foreign debt will burden Cambodians long into the future, and opposition support for taxation of land concessions that could mean better salaries for civil servants, retirement for workers over the age of 65 and a reduction of foreign debt, he said.

Yem Ponhearith, a parliamentarian for the opposition Human Rights Party who supported 2013 budget revisions suggested by the Sam Rainsy Party, said the ruling party should not marginalize the opposition. Opposition voices provide checks and balances and contribute to the rebuilding of the country and the reduction of poverty, he told VOA Khmer.

In the US budget compromise, he said, “I observed agreement over many points where they used to disagree, in order to solve a world economic crisis and a US economic crisis, which is a good example for [Cambodian] leaders to have a high responsibility and a common responsibility in leading the nation.”

Duch Darin, a US-based economist, told VOA Khmer that the Democratic and Republican parties unified in the end. “They solved the problems together and stayed together to make the economy grow,” he said. “It is an indication that in [Obama’s] second term, both parties will work together, unlike in the first term.”

Schanley Kuch, a Cambodian-American from Maryland, told VOA Khmer that the compromise between the two US parties brought some measure of relief to Americans and to observers around the world.

“This is democracy,” he said. “The majority-led party in Congress, which controls the [House of Representatives], had to respect the minority-led party. So this mutual respect highlights democracy in the United States.”