Democratization in Cambodia in Retreat Following Violent 2013

Democracy is in retreat since July’s national election as the ruling CPP has increasingly used armed forces to protect its grip on power and stubbornly refused to reform state institutions, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said in a new report released Tuesday.

“Although parliamentary elections were held in July 2013 and brought a strengthening of citizen engagement in politics, Cambodia’s democracy remained in a fragile state,” Comfrel said in its latest annual report, Democracy, Elections and Reform in Cambodia.

“Despite efforts by different national and international stakeholders to strengthen Cambodia’s democracy, 2013 marked a retreat of democracy and continued two decades of uncertainty over Cambodia’s future political direction,” the report says.

“The CPP-led executive continued to dominate the political process and relied increasingly on the formal and informal state security apparatus to respond to political pressures of the opposition,” it said.

Comfrel warned a year ago that the democratization process had suffered setbacks in 2012. But its assessment of 2013 is more grim.

“Like in previous years, Comfrel observed a continuing deterioration of the democratization process,” the report says.

Comfrel notes the government’s continued failure to separate courts from ruling party control, or ensure that the National Election Committee is restructured to restore public faith in its work.

“The legislative and judiciary continued to lack substantial powers to counterweight the influence of the executive,” the report said.

“Responsiveness, transparency and accountability of the Cambodian executive declined. No reforms of the legal system, the electoral system and the state administration including the armed forces have been undertaken to improve executive responsiveness, transparency and accountability.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Comfrel should be grateful that the government offers “stability and safety” for them to operate.

“They mislead the world about the Cambodian elections, but we don’t take action against them; they must adjust themselves to be part of our democracy,” he said.

“That is what Comfrel thinks, but we are the government, we are the people, we are on the right track,” Mr. Siphan said.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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