Many in the CPP believe they owe it to Cambodia to stop the CNRP from taking power and tearing the nation apart, and from that “everybody can draw their own conclusions” on whether there will be a free election in 2018, Germany’s outgoing ambassador said this week.
Joachim Baron von Marschall arrived to his posting in Phnom Penh three years ago amid the chaotic aftermath of the disputed July 2013 election and will depart next week under similar political circumstances to become Germany’s new ambassador to Ecuador.
In an interview at the German Embassy in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, Mr. von Marschall, 62, said he had spent a great deal of his time in Cambodia meeting with politicians from the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP.
“Some people seem to view the opposition as mere decoration. If it tries to gain power, it must be silenced,” Mr. von Marschall said.
Asked if his meetings with government and opposition leaders led him to believe the 2017 commune elections and 2018 national election would be free contests, the ambassador said that he could offer only his observations.
“What I see is a firm determination of the CPP to stay in power. I have heard it said: ‘We owe it to the country to stop the CNRP because it divides the nation.’ But elections bear risks. The CPP cannot be sure that they will get enough support,” Mr. von Marschall said. “Everybody can draw their own conclusions.”
The CPP has repeatedly promised to ensure the upcoming elections are free and fair, but has again come under pressure from some foreign embassies expressing concern about opposition arrests and slow electoral reforms.
Reflecting on the proper place of diplomats in Cambodia, Mr. von Marschall said they had to straddle a knotty line between not interfering with the nation’s internal affairs and helping protect people’s rights.
Their role is “not to assume pseudo-government functions in the host country,” he said. “But we have the developments after World War II, with the foundation of the U.N. and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so each nation has become a guardian of human rights.”
“We want the opportunity for democratic change, but we shouldn’t pour oil on the fire. We have to change thoughts by persuasion, not by bashing,” he said. “I very much believe that ultimately every country must master its own destiny.”
Life in Cambodia could also appear unchanging at times, but one big shift had made itself apparent in the three years since he arrived, the ambassador said.
“There is one important change of paradigm in what seems a continuous system: the number of young people coming of age, graduating university and becoming critical thinkers, and the pressure to change is increasing,” Mr. von Marschall said.
“It may not be tomorrow, but eventually change will occur,” he added. “The more time spent on power struggles, the more dangerous the situation is getting. The young need to be listened to and have a voice.”