Smooth Transition for a New US President: “We Can Bring Change” – Sunday, 9 November 2008

Posted on 12 November 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 585 |

The Open Institute will observe four days of holidays for the Water Festival, starting from Monday, 10.11.2008, to Thursday, 13.11.2008.

Therefore, the next Mirror will be published on Friday, 14.11.2008.

Norbert Klein, Editor

Never before in history has an election for the US presidency received so much international attention for weeks and months. Because never before was there a world-wide frustration with US policy, like it was growing during the eight years of the Bush administration. And all this international frustration, at a time of many international problems including an unprecedented economic crisis, linked up with the changing mood in the USA, which finally brought election victory Barack Obama, who represents in himself, as a symbol, his main electoral promise: to initiate change.

Observing the international media, also in Asia, indicates that the Cambodia public did not follow the election campaign in the USA with the same intensity as many other countries. The next couple of months will show whether or not Cambodia will be less involved than other countries in a changing international climate, for which many hope.

And there is reason for hope on the international scene – the president-elect has distanced himself from policies unilaterally imposed on the rest of the world. Instead he is open to listen and engage in dialogue also with adversaries, where his predecessor imposed his own position.

It is a long list of items where US policy and the fate of the rest of the world is linked; the following are some of the major examples:

The USA stayed away from the UN negotiated Kyoto Protocol on climate change, and rejected attempts at binding international commitments to control the global environment degradation – Obama will send, already before his is office, a team to the UN climate change talks in Poland.

Instead of strong support for the big oil companies, a program to save energy will be started, creating new jobs in efforts to harness renewable energy sources, to develop more fuel efficient cars, and to apply more and more energy saving construction methods for buildings also in the USA which do not waste so much energy for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. – There are clear plans with timeliness: renewable energy from hydroelectricity, from wind, and from the sun, covers 8% of electricity needs at present, which should increase to 10% by 2012, and to 25% by 2025.

His transition team leaked already the intention to close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, created outside of the rule of law of the USA for “enemy combatants” – a legal status created in the US declared “war on terror.” The reports about abuse and torture committed there by US agents have heavily damaged the reputation of the USA as a guardian of human rights.

The present US administration had refused to become part of the countries endorsing the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and the USA has – together with Somalia – not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a convention signed by every country in the world, and the same is true for the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – all in an attitude as if the USA would be above the rule of law developed in the international community of nations.

A member of Foreign Policy In Focus – “a think tank without walls,” an NGO – suggested to the president-elect four steps to bring US human rights policy in line with international standards and restore the reputation of the USA:

  • “Step one: Create a relationship with U.S.-based human rights organizations.
  • Step two: Repair your relationship with human rights bodies at the United Nations.
  • Step three: Do something that unequivocally demonstrates that the United States will no longer act as if it is above international law.
  • Step four: In your first week in office, get out your pen and begin signing some long overdue international human rights treaties.”

The style of the electoral campaign, Obama’s engagement in lively discussions, is a stark contrast to his predecessor, who is among the presidents with the least number of press conferences held. That Obama is aiming at wide open communication is obvious from plans to promote the Internet as an instrument of communication almost as universally available as the telephone. We will report on this aspect more in detail, as it poses some challenges on the future development of the information society in Cambodia.

The president elect is a strong supporter of developing universal, affordable broadband Internet access, and he is a friend to public broadcasting – not allowing that only a gradually smaller number of big corporations dominate the airwaves and the printed press – and control the public opinion.

The so called “consolidation of the media,” allowing the destruction of smaller media organizations, and giving more and more control over the Internet to large phone and cable companies, will not continue – in future allowing again a multitude of free voices to be heard and to be read – making it clear that an open media policy with public and independent media is the basis for the functioning of a democratic society.

There are many elements which could be used as points of reference in Cambodia – providing inspiration and orientation in the present still deepening economic crisis, helping to overcome fear of the future with active hope. The economic problems and growing difficulties for young people, to find jobs, need to be met by similar leadership and enthusiasm as seen in the US election campaign, to avoid social conflict to build up to dangerous levels.

During my recent participation in Internet governance meetings in Egypt, the deeply shocking results of an opinion poll by the government’s Cabinet Information and Decision Support Center were published: 88 percent of the Egyptian youth are not willing to continue living in Egypt. A second survey by the Ministry of Manpower came to the same results. – These figures, collected by the government itself – not by some government critical agencies – were received as shock in the media, because they do not fit in well will the high percentage of support the government gets in elections. But obviously young people form their own opinions – as the press said – against educational institutions which do not allow creativity to grow from freedom, and which do not lead to employment opportunities in a society where favoritism and cronyism and corruption do not show a way into a rewarding future.

There is political stability in Egypt with a strong majority party and its leadership in control, and an economic development obvious and visible. Social peace and satisfaction looks further. The election in the USA, focused on hope and change and openness, and the wide international attention it received, show that similar expectation are alive also in other countries. The next months and years will show how much others will take similar orientations.

Finally, it is impressive to see how not only in political terms, but also in practical arrangements, transitions take place: When the British Labor Party changed its leadership, Prime Minister Tony Blair and his family moved out of their residence at the prime minister’s residence in Downing Street 10 in London, to make room for Gordon Brown in June 2007 to move in. And now Barrack Obama, the first US president of African descent and his family, will move into the White House, when President Bush and his family leaves. A peaceful transitions with many changes, until recently almost unthinkable. But the majority of the American people decided to start a new page in their history.


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