Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Path to an Enduring Democracy

The Cambodia Herald
Published: 06-Jul-14 09:13AM | By William E. Todd

I recently concluded a productive trip to the United States with a Cambodian business delegation. Our aim was to encourage increased bilateral trade and investment in order to bring greater prosperity to the people of both our countries. During this trade mission, our delegation was reminded of the critical link between the strength of Cambodia’s economy and the health of its democracy. In meetings with American businesses, we consistently heard concerns about whether Cambodia’s human rights protections and democratic institutions were strong enough to support a vibrant business climate. With that in mind, I want to address a question from one of my readers, Menghun, who wrote, “Cambodia has faced many hurdles on the path to democracy. How has the United States’ democracy endured for so long?”

The United States, having celebrated 238 years of independence this past weekend, is indeed one of the world’s most enduring republics. Having spent our Independence Day – better known as “the Fourth of July” – reflecting on the sometimes rocky road toward democracy, I can assure you that the path is far from smooth and the journey never finished.

The years following our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 were times of great debate among our Founding Fathers. Many of the provisions and protections that we now take for granted – the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, and the division of authority between federal and state governments – were achieved only after a long and sometimes contentious deliberation. By balancing the passionate opinions of opposing groups – allowing for dissent, encouraging debate, and promoting compromise – our Founding Fathers laid the cornerstone of a sound political system and set the tone for how future disagreements should be resolved. We learned that the struggle for liberty and equality can move forward only when all sides of a debate engage in meaningful dialogue in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Dialogue or even resolution of a political dispute, however, does not necessarily mean complete agreement. Former President John F. Kennedy captured this sentiment when he said, “The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.” 

Dissent, as this sentiment implies, is not a burden to be borne but an important component toward maintaining a healthy democracy. The continuing ban on demonstrations, by stifling dissent and discouraging a free exchange of ideas, does not, in the long run, advance Cambodia’s democracy.

As we have witnessed in our own 238 year history, no matter how intractable an issue may appear, it can be resolved through patience, compromise, mutual respect, and dialogue. I believe that incorporating these qualities is the way forward in resolving political disputes in any country. When people discuss the current political impasse, I am reminded of what Thomas Edison, perhaps the most famous inventor in U.S. history, once said about problem solving, “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven't.” For our part, the United States remains a steadfast partner in helping Cambodia become an inclusive and enduring democracy that can achieve broad-based, equitable economic growth for the benefit of all Cambodians.I am confident that through continued dedication and determination to peaceful dialogue the Cambodian people can advance democracy.

Thank you for reading my column this week on a very important issue. Please help to continue this conversation on the most pressing matters in Cambodia by sending me your questions at and following my blog at

William E. Todd is U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia

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