Representatives from 10 Iraqi political parties got a crash course in Cambodian politics on Tuesday when they met separately with the National Election Committee, election monitors and officials from the four main parties running in Sunday’s commune elections.
The meetings ranged from exercises in multilingual diplomacy to de facto history lessons about Cambodia’s troubled political past. The Iraqis, who arrived Saturday and are scheduled to depart April 5, will fan out into the provinces at the end of this week in order to monitor Sunday’s polls.
During their Tuesday meetings, the delegation inquired generally about the platforms of the CPP, Funcinpec, the Norodom Ranariddh Party and the SRP. Several delegation members and a Cambodia-based election monitor also probed more deeply, asking the CPP about its willingness to share power, Funcinpec about its relationship with King Norodom Sihamoni, and the NRP about where it gets its money.
Sabir Esmaeel Ahmed, former general director of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, read his question for the CPP’s Secretary-General Say Chhum in English from a small piece of paper.
“Will you have a program to build houses for people sleeping on the streets?” Sabir Esmaeel Ahmed asked.
Say Chhum responded that the ruling party works hard to promote human rights. “We are rich in freedom in Cambodia,” he said.
Asked by a member of the delegation whether the CPP is willing to give other parties a chance to compete in a free election, Say Chhum chuckled and said that the CPP always respects the law. He also said that the NEC is responsible for granting equal opportunities during elections.
Several Iraqis also said they were pleased to learn that the CPP has several high-ranking members who are Muslims.
The Committee for Free and Fair Elections and the US-based International Republican Institute organized the visit, which aims to give the Iraqi politicians more experience as election monitors. The delegation was accompanied Tuesday by IRI staff from Baghdad and Washington.
Visiting Phsar Tuol Tumpong during a lunch break, Sargon Lazar Slewa, director of the Assyrian Democratic Movement’s Kirkuk branch, said he was getting a clearer picture of the situation in Cambodia from people on the streets than from political parties.
“People are saying there [is] corruption,” he said, but he added that democracy appears to be developing well.
“It’s a poor country but people are educated,” he said.
In the evening, SRP lawmaker Son Chhay told the delegation that Cambodia is “becoming a two-party system more than ever before.” He also spoke of high levels of corruption in the government, and said the ruling party has systematically violated electoral procedures in the past.
Gassan Salih AlSaad, head of the Islamic Virtue Party’s elections office, said he had gained some clarity on Cambodia’s political situation.
“I learned there is conflict between past and future, between freedom…and corruption,” he said, but added: “The Cambodian people [will] decide.”