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Deadlock in Cambodia
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PHNOM PENH – The final results will be available only on August 8, but political deadlock is the name of the game after the third general election of the 10-year-old Cambodian democracy. Once again it’s prime minister Hun Sen against both of his most bitter rivals, Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the leader of the main opposition party, Sam Rainsy.

Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) are now de facto allies. Funcinpec secretary general Prince Norodom Sirivudh and Sam Rainsy said in a joint press conference that the parties were forming a “liaison” to protest the preliminary election results, and they will demand recounts and even re-votes in several areas of Cambodia.

All of this because the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has taken the initiative already, on Monday evening via its spokesman and state secretary of information, Khieu Kanharith. According to the CPP’s first projections – widely broadcast on state-owned TVK – the party was set to clinch the absolute majority of votes for the first time (73 seats, against 64 in the 1998 elections), although not the necessary two-thirds to govern without a coalition. According to TVK director Mau Ayuth, the broadcast orders came directly from Kanharith.

CPP preliminary figures were not confirmed by any other source. These figures also stated huge progress for the SRP – possibly 24 seats, against 15 in 1998 – and something like a disaster for the royalist Funcinpec – 26 seats, against 43 in 1998. Probably none of the 20 small parties will win any seats – so inevitably most of them started complaining about the fairness of the election as early as Monday.

After pointing to a series of irregularities, from “feeble voter turnout” (in fact 83 percent, according to the National Election Committee, or NEC) and “the Vietnamese vote” , Prince Ranariddh was quick to add that these results “don’t reflect the will of the population”. Sam Rainsy for his part denounced “CPP manipulations on TV” and said the SRP would complain about registration problems, which prevented many from voting. But Sam Rainsy had one very good reason to be cheerful: he was sure to win the urban vote in Phnom Penh, with close to 50 percent of the votes in the capital, which would give his party six of the 12 Phnom Penh seats in the 123-seat National Assembly. On Monday, both Sam Rainsy and Prince Ranariddh had already denounced what they called “psychological warfare” by the CPP. On Tuesday, Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy went into overdrive. Rainsy said “the CPP-produced results will most likely be confirmed by the National Election Committee. This shows the NEC is just a tool for the CPP to manipulate the vote.”

Has the CPP actually stolen the elections? Sam Rainsy simply could not make that accusation on the record. But from Monday to Tuesday, he changed tack: at first, it was not as bad as he feared; then it became “anything but free and fair”. According to Sam Rainsy, the partnership between Funcinpec and the SRP will last “until democracy prevails”.


Antonio de Menezes, spokesman for the huge European Union observer mission, was quick to say that “anyone who is pronouncing on the elections is being hasty”. Most foreign observer missions refuse for the moment to make a summary assessment of the whole process, preferring to adopt a “wait and see” attitude.

In none of the preliminary results so far has the CPP managed to win the necessary two-thirds of votes for a no-coalition government. Both actors of the new “liaison”, Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy, have endlessly repeated they will not join a coalition led by Hun Sen.

The deadlock could be broken by one of two solutions: either the CPP calls for an amendment to the constitution, or a new election has to take place. Most Cambodian observers are betting on the second option. According to the constitution, once a winning party is declared – in this case the CPP – the new 123-seat Assembly must hold its first formal session in a maximum of 60 days. Their first job is to vote on a new government. The proposal to be voted must be formulated by the CPP. The party has to recommend the names of the prime minister and the members of the Council of Ministers. And the names have to be approved by two-thirds of the Assembly.

Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, remains optimistic that a coalition government will be finally agreed upon. At least in Phnom Penh, people don’t seem to be very moved by accusations of irregularities. Villagers who came to the capital in search of a good job stress the good things the CPP brought them – such as electricity, roads and schools – and dismiss the whole complaining game. Bit Seang Lim, an economist, suggests that the CPP, Funcinpec and SRP should reach an agreement very soon, for the sake of Cambodia’s economy: “Any dispute will keep investors out of the country.” The Ministry of Social Affairs, taking no chances, has ominously warned workers in the crucial garment industry that until the formation of the new government, everyone must “work normally”.

Millan Lov, a marketing consultant in Phnom Penh, is a typical urban, educated SRP voter. His family is pure Chinese diaspora: his grandfather came to Cambodia from Guangzhou in the 1920s. His father, a mathematics professor, was the victim of a political assassination before the United Nations-sponsored 1993 elections, when he was tipped to become a governor. Millan voted for the SRP, but knows the party will need a lot of resources over a long time to build trust in the countryside. He totally agrees with the party’s platform of fighting against corruption, but also admits that Hun Sen since 1998 has become a much smarter and efficient politician. And he knows Sam Rainsy needs more government experience. So he is ready to give Hun Sen another five years. Transparency and modernity in Cambodia’s young democracy may eventually win – but only in 2008.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Cambodia 
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