Cambodia: Elections Likely Despite Problems


Milton Osborne

It appears that Cambodia's elections will take place as scheduled on 26 July, despite the concerns of human rights organisations that outright abuses and dubious practices could throw into question a free and fair electoral process. Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen's most credible critic, has added his voice to those arguing that the elections should be postponed. But the members of ASEAN are looking to the elections to overcome the embarrassment Cambodia has caused since the events of July 1997, and other governments including those of Australia and the United States are hoping that the elections might draw a line under the problems of the past. At a meeting in Bangkok on 20 June, these 'Friends of Cambodia' gave their endorsement to the elections proceeding. Overshadowed by the preoccupation of outside observers with the Asian economic crises, preparations are going ahead for the elections in an atmosphere of continuing insecurity, both in the capital Phnom Penh and in the countryside. This situation is captured in a recent statement by First Prime Minister Ung Huot that he believes 'on the spot' executions are appropriate to combat the high level of violent crime. While no opinion polls are reliable, there is a consensus among foreign observers that Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is set to win the largest number of seats in the election, though possibly not enough to gain the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly that would enable amendment of the Constitution. Certainly, the CPP has shown itself to be much better organised than the factionalised FUNCINPEC, with Prince Ranarridh playing a lacklustre role. In particular, the CPP has many more active branches throughout the country, in addition to the power it exerts through control over much of the civil and military administration. CPP officials have been very active in the voter registration process, using techniques designed to link registration with promises of a vote for their candidates. A significant feature of the election campaign so far is King Sihanouk's decision not to become involved in the political process. While still revered by many Cambodians, he probably recognises that the time when he could automatically depend on being able to exert political clout has passed.  

WATCHPOINT: Any major violent incident linked to the election process will cast doubt on the fairness of the poll.


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