On Friday, August 18th, 2000, an informal forum was held between Prince Norodom Sirivudh and students from the state of California to discuss Democracy in Long Beach, California. The event encompassed a monologue of the Prince’s life as a member of the Royal Cambodian Family and as an active politician in the Cambodian government from 1971 until present. The students squeezed in several questions at the end of the monologue but overall the forum was a fair lesson in history to the majority of the students who possessed little knowledge about Cambodian politics. However, the students were able to carry out the original idea behind the forum by asking the Prince questions about democracy. Seventeen individuals attended the forum, which included elders and students representing UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, and Long Beach City College. Many of the students also participate as active members in local and global organizations such as the Cambodian Humanitarian Organization for Peace on Earth (C-HOPE) and KhmerConnection.com.
What follows is a summary of the hour-long monologue the Prince gave to the students.
During the 1971 political turmoil, the Prince was exiled into France. The year 1977 marked the end of his exile and the beginning of his political participation in the government. During the 1991 peace agreement in Phnom Penh, he served as the Chief of Bureau where he help prepare the election of 1993. The outcome of this election resulted in disputes between the CPP and the FUNCIPEC party over fraud in the voting system. Both parties reached a compromise that resulted in the election of two prime ministers. Such a structure would soon create a stalemate in decision-making and political action. With this new adversity facing him, he turned towards his philosophy oh how to fulfill a duty to the country: 1) agree with party politics and continue carrying party guidelines or 2) resign. The Prince chose to resign with no bitterness or vindictiveness in his decision.
In suit followed the 1997 “coup d’ etat” which some also called the “July event.” During this time, Cambodia was receiving foreign investments from different countries around the world and was going through a period of increasing GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Due to the violence of 1997, international powers withdrew their support and the GDP growth rate plummeted back to 0%. The 1998 elections soon followed the violence. Three different parties were contending for the seat: CPP, FUNCIPEC, and SRP. The election led to yet another dispute over fraud and another compromise was reached.
In 1999 Prince Norodom Sirivudh returned Cambodia to serve as the private counselor for the Prince. He is also an active member with the CICP (Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace). The one and a half hour of monologue was very much a history lesson for the audience. Given the informal arena, it allowed for a more personal interaction between the Prince and his listeners. The event was fair in that it was not a one sided discussion. Students were allowed to ask questions afterwards. However, due to the time constraint, not much could be addressed.