U.S. Ambassador William Todd on Tuesday used his weekly newspaper column to urge Cambodia’s government to immediately conduct reforms that would even the country’s economic playing field, curb corruption, restore democratic freedoms and generally address the concerns of citizens who want change.
“Corruption and nepotism contribute to an uneven playing field that poorer Cambodians and those without family connections are hard-pressed to overcome,” Mr. Todd said in his column, which is published in the Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea daily and on the Cambodia Express News website.
“When ordinary Cambodians see little opportunity for advancement or feel those in power aren’t listening to—and acting on—their concerns, it should not be a surprise that they want change,” the ambassador writes.
Mr. Todd’s comments come a week after the government, in a statement responding to a report critical of July’s election, accused U.S.-funded media outlets and democracy-building organizations of conspiring with the opposition CNRP to launch a revolution against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
The government’s behavior in the past month—violently quashing demonstrations, arresting activists and suppressing dissent—must change, opening the way for reforms, or else risk damaging the country’s economy, Mr. Todd said.
“The political impasse has held back…much needed [economic and socio-political] reforms,” Mr. Todd wrote. “Without reforms, Cambodia’s economic development is at risk.”
“If the recent setback in the protection of human rights becomes the new norm, it would mark a significant step backwards for Cambodia’s democracy,” he added.
To support his point, Mr. Todd points to a survey conducted by the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute in November that found a steep decline in public opinion about the government since January, with 43 percent of respondents saying that the country is headed in the wrong direction.
“And this was before the recent deadly violence and restrictions on public assembly,” Mr. Todd said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that Mr. Hun Sen’s administration is already working on the reforms recommended by Mr. Todd, adding, “We don’t need any other nation to help us.”
“[Mr. Todd] complains about nepotism and corruption. The government has been taking care of that. This issue does not find a solution overnight,” Mr. Siphan said.
Mr. Siphan said that the government’s suppression of freedom of assembly has been a step forward for democracy.
“It is not the wrong direction, it is the right direction to strengthen law and order and democracy. This democracy doesn’t allow anyone to commit anarchy on the street,” he said.
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