Diplomats in Phnom Penh reacted cautiously Tuesday to the National United Front’s declaration of a boycott of July 26 elections, saying they were uncertain how it would impact international support for the polls.
NUF officials say they hope the prospect of an election without the main opposition would disturb the international community enough to put pressure on the Phnom Penh government to postpone the elections.
“Friends of democracy should urge that the conditions we have described be corrected and that Cambodia’s elections be rescheduled so that their outcome can reflect the true will of the Cambodian people,” opposition politician Sam Rainsy said in a statement Tuesday night.
The NUF president, deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, declined to discuss the boycott when he returned from Bangkok to Phnom Penh on Tuesday. “I think our statement is very clear already,” he said.
Most diplomats, however, were noncommittal about what, if anything, the international community would do in response to the declared boycott.
“We are continuing to assess the situation,” said Lakhan Mehrotra, the UN secretary-general’s representative in Phnom Penh.
A NUF statement Monday declared that it will not participate in July 26 elections, but the front said it is “eager” to compete in polls later this year. No date was specified, but the NUF said that intimidation must be halted and that opposition parties must have their own broadcast media at least two months before any vote.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen immediately rejected any possibility of a delay, saying the opposition did not have the leverage to hold the elections hostage.
Still, one Phnom Penh-based diplomat said Tuesday that the UN and the international community would be hard-pressed to support elections held without the main opposition.
“If the NUF do boycott, that is going to present grave problems,” he said. “An election without the participation of three of the main four political players…would seriously weaken the efficacy of the exercise.”
But at the same time, the international community must also worry about the possibility of being used as a tool in a political gambit, according to political analyst Raoul Jennar.
“There is the concern of the international community to push Cambodia into organizing free and fair elections,” Jennar said. “On the other side, there is also the concern not to be trapped into partisan games.”
The boycott will force the international community to ask difficult questions about the importance of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh to the elections.
An Asian diplomat said it is too soon to tell whether a boycott July 26 would mar the credibility of the elections. “We have to assess the situation and conditions of the boycott very carefully,” he said. “A boycott itself would not necessarily make the vote not free and not fair.”
Participation of the prince was called crucial by the international community earlier this year when it appeared that he would not be permitted to return and compete in the election.
Now that he is back, the donors must decide whether it is the prince’s right to run or his actual participation that determines the polls’ credibility, according to one Western diplomat.