Why Should We Normalize Political Discussion?
Written By: Samoeurth Seavmeng, 3rd Generation Leader of Politikoffee
Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia
Photo Credit: Politikoffee
Some of us have probably been told by our parents since we were children not to talk about politics. When we go to school, we are prohibited from discussing it with our classmates and teachers. After we graduate and get a job, we might get fired if we discuss politics in the office. For some people, in their entire lives, they might have never experienced talking about politics with their friends or acquaintances. In Cambodia, besides our socially accepted norms portraying politics as neither safe nor useful, our country bans political discussion among students and teachers. The numerous arrests and imprisonment of political activists and former CNRP members have made this practice worse. In this context, I believe the forbiddance and arrests have affected the mindset of every Cambodian citizen. Public discussions on topics such as Cambodian elections, corruption, governance, politics and public service delivery have been conducted by very few organizations in Cambodia for the public to join. When the discussions are conducted, the discussants generally would not dare to get deep into those sensitive issues. Some even censor themselves. These raise a few important questions: Why is talking politics not a habit among many Cambodian people? Why is politics considered a sensitive topic? What are the benefits if we discuss politics?
The word discussion means exchanging ideas or views with other people or giving opinions on certain issues. Therefore, a political discussion means exchanging your ideas and opinions about politics. This does not necessarily mean attacking, criticizing or going against any individual or group of people. Having dialogues or discussions about politics with friends does not mean we have to be deeply involved in politics. Beneficially, political discussion helps increase our critical thinking skills and knowledge about our nation’s social and political affairs. It makes us become informed citizens. Once we have the knowledge of those issues and keep ourselves updated about their happenings, we can potentially keep politicians accountable for their actions.
The more we know about politicians, the more they become more responsible
Some people categorize politicians as “cheaters’’. We might often hear people say, “Politics is Cheating”. That is why people hate politics. Consequently, it makes politics too bad and even unbearable to discuss. Politicians could behave irresponsibly because they probably think we are politically illiterate. We do not have any ideas about what is going on, and especially we do not have an opinion about their actions. Not all politicians are bad, though. Politicians can also do good goods and we have many good politicians as well. For example, the global movement to end discrimination against women and LGTIQ+ people, the legality of same-sex marriages in some countries, and the campaigns to end gender inequality are some good things that politicians have done to make their society and the world a better place. It is important to understand that we all have the power to make them do that if we work together.
When we become politically literate, more or less, politicians will become more accountable for their actions. It is because they know we have our eyes on them, and we know what they are up to. When politicians are elected to lead the country, they pledge to serve our national interests, not themselves. They are obliged to make good policies to serve us, address social problems and develop the country sustainably and inclusively. Social problems such as flooding, gang-rapes, traffic jams, unaffordable housing, and high price of petrol are all in the hands of politicians. They have the power to address all these issues. They have the power to influence private companies and other stakeholders to solve all these problems. As stated in the Oxford Handbook of Political Communication “Through political discussions, citizens’ opinions and perspectives are represented in their government, and in turn their government is more responsive to its citizens.”
However, if we do not know our country’s political system and governance and policies and priorities of major political parties, it is hard for us to track politicians’ actions and keep them accountable. In contrast, if we know those affairs well and we keep ourselves updated about their actions, politicians will be more careful with every move they make. They are aware that we are checking their election campaign promises. We are informed and responsible citizens. We let them know that we have the power to elect them and we also have the power to vote them out of office. We need to let them know that we care about our country’s affairs just as much as they probably do.
Political discussion may also make people become closer with one another and create a culture of sharing knowledge amongst peers with peers, colleagues with colleagues and family members and family members. They will become more understandable, open-minded and tolerant. As a result, it will reduce tension, conflict and misunderstanding. Ultimately, we will create a peaceful society where people do not get angry easily and are willing to have frank discussions to find solutions instead of coloring each other or getting into fights. We will also stop labelling people who do not have the same political beliefs or ideology as our enemies. Moreover, sharing knowledge about sociopolitical issues with colleagues can perhaps make the office environment more enjoyable and less stressful.
Together for a politically literate society
We are now more informed of what is happening in our country. Nevertheless, when it comes to politics, I believe we are still afraid to discuss it with our friends, colleagues and relatives to avoid “conflict” which potentially harms our friendships, professional networks and family bonds. Want it or not, our daily life cannot be separated from politics, thereby requiring our attention and participation.
The importance of political discussion at the workplace: The purpose of discussing politics is not to cause conflicts or misunderstanding. It is to exchange ideas, information and opinions on political issues affecting our country. It is also to ease possible tensions and misunderstanding. Some people working in administration, finance and business, for example, might not keep themselves updated with the country’s status quo. They probably think it is not relevant to their work. However, the issues such as gang-rapes, traffic jams, flooding, unaffordable housing, high price of petrol have significant impacts on their lives. Therefore, having colleagues who are knowledgeable about social and political affairs could help them be informed and take appropriate actions if required. We need a majority of us to voice our concerns, from everyone and from every sector. Once our voices are heard, it is hard for them to ignore.
Increasing political literacy in our society: Everyone should be able to talk about politics in public and private places. Those who do not work at offices can discuss with their peers and learn more from better informed friends. This does not necessarily mean we should discuss it all the time. We can do it when it is the right time. For example, we can engage in political discussion when there are concerns about social problems that are left unaddressed by politicians. I believe that when a culture of discussion becomes normal in our society and when everyone is aware of our country’s affairs, politicians cannot escape from their duties.
Creating a good habit for the next generation
Children impersonate their parents and people around them quickly, and adolescents look up to their seniors and surroundings. Accordingly, if we want the next generation to pay more attention to issues affecting their lives, we need to start normalizing political discussion from now on. Political talks with parents and relatives help to broaden knowledge and increase critical thinking for youth who will obtain crucial knowledge of their country’s affairs and politicians who lead their nation. This makes them familiar with politics and will not get easily influenced by anyone. I believe many young people are told by their parents to vote for a political party, which they probably have no idea what the party’s policy is about. Some do not care and just follow their peers or neighbors when it comes to voting.
Our future will become more complicated with the rise of advanced technology, artificial intelligence, vicious diseases and uncontrollable climate change. Hence, we need informed, responsible and politically-minded people who could deal with those issues wholeheartedly. We cannot let private companies create policies for us. Regular political discussion is significant because it will result in better informed citizens who will be able to hold politicians accountable. More importantly, the next generation of Cambodians will become highly innovative politicians and policymakers who will be able to initiate important policies for Cambodia.
Thus, normalizing political discussion is extremely crucial for Cambodian society. Not only does it give benefits to the Cambodian citizens to keep politicians accountable, but it could also transform the society to be a politically literate one.
I believe if we normalize political discussion, it will help improve the current and future landscape of politics in Cambodia. The world is rapidly changing; therefore, we need more innovative politicians and policymakers to enhance Cambodia’s competitiveness on the global stage. Normalizing political discussion is a great start. However, achieving it is not easy and it will take time and commitment. Therefore, in order to create an open political discussion environment in our society, we need active participation from everyone.
First, we should try to know more about our duties in participating in politics and civic engagement. We should not consider politics as something only for politicians. Cambodia is our country so it is essential that we contribute to developing and improving it.
Second, those who are more knowledgeable of sociopolitical affairs should share with the ones who know less about political issues. They should try to share with other people to make them well-informed of social and political issues impacting the country. Not everyone has the privilege to learn and keep themselves updated with important status quo. This action will also strengthen civic and political engagement of Cambodian citizens. “Sharing is Caring” is not only caring about other people but we care about our country’s affairs as well.
Third, young people will inherit everything from the current politicians and leaders. It is crucial for them to participate in their country’s political affairs and development. Youth should start discussing politics more often with peers and do it as much as they can. Once they are able to do it, the next generation will follow suit. Consequently, they will be able to join in directing the country in the way they want it to be.
Finally, the Cambodian government plays the most significant role to empower and promote political discussion. It should encourage the citizens to talk more about it rather than prohibit it. When the citizens become political-literate, they will help in providing valuable input that politicians need to lead the country to achieve sustainable development, prosperity and greatness.
Dec 31, 2021