For Immediate Release: The Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assemblies have come to a close with tentative results following the three events held throughout June across the Kingdom of Cambodia ahead of the national election. Planned as an expression of grassroots democratic engagement-, to get politicians of the three main political parties to listen to the needs of their constituents- the Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly (CGPA) became an exercise in demonstrating the democratic rights, freedoms and hopes guaranteed by the Cambodian Constitution. While the Assemblies were peaceful events that served no individual party political purpose, it proved very difficult in Kompong Chnang and Preah Sihanouk, and impossible in Siem Reap, to convince the authorities of the non-oppositional intentions of the Cambodian Cross Sector Network so that full cooperation and participation was ensured beforehand.
The three assemblies on June 14, 19 and 24 were held in public spaces in order to allow for an open, transparent atmosphere where participants as well as the general public could see and experience democracy in action. The authorities in Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Som proved to be more open to the events and after fulfilling the necessary procedure as well as engaging in negotiations before the event, both Assemblies unfolded successfully. In Siem Reap it proved to be a different affair, as the authorities never once engaged with CGPA organizers to ensure a smooth implementation.
“The presence and behavior of more than 300 police and military police was designed to be very intimidating, especially when they drove speeding up and down the road in the fire trucks while manning the water cannons. In the days before CGPA, when authorities in the other provinces respected the organizers by calling for negotiation meetings, the Siem Reap authorities simply remained silent, trying to ignore us. I guess they hoped that would make us afraid and doubt our legal rights to make our plan a reality. The more they ignored the people, the more determined we all became to exercise our democratic rights and show them they do not need to be afraid of us. Our event is about presenting our issues and solutions to our political representatives, nothing more. The strength and courage of the people finally brought the rightful respect from the authorities who did not use violence and from the CPP party who did come to the marching Assembly to accept and sign the People’s Statement” said Keo Sophy, a representative from Tapen land community, Banteay Srei district, Siem Reap province.
“Our will is strong because it is the will of all ordinary Cambodian people. We are doing nothing wrong. And politicians of every party are recognizing this fact,” said Teng Kao, a preventative from Sugar network, Koh Kong province. “We appreciate deeply that representatives of FUNCIPEC, the CNRP and the CPP attended our assemblies and signed the Joint People’s Statement. However, apart from in Preah Sihanouk, the CPP representatives did not participate willingly, only at the last moment when people were marching to their offices. Our intention throughout is to ask political leaders to respect the people. Eventually the people got that respect but they had to struggle under heat and rain, and facing a lot of military first. We hope authorities and political parties everywhere now understand who we are, we are their legitimate constituents. And we hope for better cooperation in the future.”
The purpose of the Joint People’s Statement was to get the invited political parties to acknowledge the issues faced by people across the Kingdom and to commit to solutions which respond equitably and sustainably to the different needs of people in different sectors. Signing the statement is like recommitting to the very people of Cambodia, putting the people first. It’s a chance for all politicians, regardless of party, to display that they do have the best interests of their constituents in mind and are real legitimate representatives of their people.
“For us as citizens, we want our leaders to know our problems and solutions. We are the constituents and must be part of solutions through democratized cooperation and actual representation of our needs, so that our problems can finally be solved. That is why we held the Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly – people need to be heard, their solutions need to be incorporated into the Kingdom’s future development. As we have said we want leaders who are chosen by us, work for us and stay with us,” said Ly Pisey, a representative from Social Action for Change of cross sector network.
Cambodia’s upcoming parliamentary elections in July are a time for renewed commitments from the Kingdom’s elected officials to their people and their many needs across this country. Promises, pledges, assurances, agreements and statements sound good to the ear, but Cambodia needs real action to ensure a democratic, sustainable and equitable future for all. The Cambodian Cross-Sector Network and its allies will continue to push for the demands presented, because no solutions for what the Cambodian people need can be imposed – they must come from listening to and participating with the people.
“The Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly has had tentative successes that we hope will grow into sustained equitable development. We have been very respectful and reasonable at all times, and will continue to be so. We will always remain peaceful because not to be would be against our values, our goals and our needs. With one month left before the election, we wish to stress again that we are too tired with the empty promises. What we want now are real and lasting solutions with an equal partnership between us and our legitimate leaders, said Penh Ath, a representative from Phnom Kuk community, Kampong Chhnang province.