Expert View

 —Commune Election 2017—

Cham Bunthet, Political analyst and adviser to the Grassroots Democracy Party.

Cham Bunthet

Greed, hatred and fear of losing power have dominated Cambodia’s political sphere for the last five decades. Leaders who possess these unwholesome qualities do whatever possible to destroy their opponents and win all alone.

To ask me whether policies or personalities win the elections, I would say people desire better policies and solutions, but the politics of fear, greed and hatred would win elections.

People who desire to vote for change do so because they dislike their current leaders, not because the party they choose has good policies, but the other party represents their anger, hatred and fear, and this is what the current opposition leaders are advocating for as well.

For those who vote to resist change, it is because they are afraid of losing their power, social status, and personal and family security, or are afraid of war if their party loses the election.

Therefore, this upcoming election is more about change—what the opposition party called “dictator” or “Yuon Puppet” or about resisting change that would cause a civil war, as frequently suggested by the prime minister—than the policies that really matter to Cambodia and Cambodians the most.   

Sok Eysan, CPP spokesman and lawmaker. 

Sok Eysan

Both policies of the party and personalities of the commune candidates are important to drive people to vote for the party. But, in my view, while the personalities of the representing candidates are important, the party’s policies are more important.

Policy is fundamentally important because whether work developing the commune succeeds or fails, if the policy is not right, it will not be able to serve local people as intended.

We can see the experience in history. Because the policy was not right, Pol Pot fell into a genocidal regime, even though he was an intelligentsia, a person of a higher degree.

All the commune candidates of the Cambodian People’s Party were chosen thoroughly following the party’s terms and conditions, including evaluation by party members and an anonymous vote by party members as well.

The main characteristic of a candidate is someone who is capable of serving people and has experience in serving people, and has had high achievement in the commune’s development works. Therefore, policy is the first priority. However, if the policy is good, but the candidate is not, it will affect the implementation of the policy.

Sophal Ear, Policy analyst and author of ‘Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy’.

Sophal Ear 1

It’s a bit like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg?

People come first in my view, even though the way Cambodia votes is based on political parties defined by party list representation.

So while there are candidates, it’s really the party that is voted in and based on the number of votes, it’s the first name on the list, second name on the list, etc…that get seats.

As an academic, I believe that it should be policies that win elections, but we know policies are like the moons orbiting planets; they’re out there, they exist, but little is heard from them.

Personalities rule Cambodia, and that’s how voters get excited.

Charisma drives so much of the cult of personality we see today that it seems quaint to think of politics in Cambodia as much more than about person X = development. Without person X, there is no peace. Well, that’s how you get the rule of man and the idea of “L’etat c’est moi” (“the state, it is I”).

What we need of course are elections that lead to policies and institutions that promote the rule of law and human rights.

Yim Sovann, CNRP spokesman and president of the party’s executive committee. 

Yim Sovann

To begin with, I think both personality and policy are important for the electorate to make a decision as to who to vote for. However, for these commune elections, the CNRP managed to select candidates with good reputations who are well respected in their communities.

All of the CNRP candidates are trusted by the local people. They need to have capacity, integrity, honesty and determination to serve the people by carrying out policy pledges. It’s important to emphasize that the commune chiefs will have more responsibilities in their communes, especially financial ones. They all understand that they are there to serve the people, not to exploit.

The CNRP is responsible and accountable to the voters. CNRP commune chiefs have to be responsible and accountable to the local community that votes for them. We promise that any CNRP commune chiefs who don’t carry out their jobs properly will be removed by the party. This being said, I think that good personality alone is not enough. It has to be accompanied by good policies. I believe that the CNRP have candidates with both good personality and good policy that will serve the people well.

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