Observers: Past Lessons Will Guide Election

After a string of elections marred by alleged vote-rigging, intimidation and violence, Cam­bodia’s politicians have learned their lesson and will ensure the July 27 general election unfolds more smoothly, some election observers say.

“They learned enough lessons to improve things ahead,” said Chea Vannath, director of the Center for Social Development. “I don’t envision any [post-election] political deadlock because each of the leaders has learned from the problems in 1998.”

The last general election, in 1998, ended in violent clashes and a political deadlock that lasted more than three months. Chea Van­nath said that’s not likely to happen this time, but she ex­pressed concern that the three main opposing parties—CPP, Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party—do not seem willing to collaborate with each other over national issues.

“I have not seen Cambodian political parties thinking of national unity to solve major national problems,” she said. “If a party says it will eliminate corruption, it won’t work if others are not cooperating.”

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said he is worried that the interests of individual leaders could thwart their parties’ collective interests. With power-hungry leaders at the helm, he said, parties are not likely to work together to form a new coalition government.

“If the election re­sults appear to be unsatisfactory to individual leaders, they can make problems,” he said.

But while the outcome is still too early to predict, Koul Panha said the campaigns have so far been an improvement over previous ones.

Heide Bronke, spokeswoman for the US Embassy, said she would not yet make a judgment on the fairness of the campaigns.

But she said, “We think the mechanism [for a free and fair election] is in place and we support that.”

On the streets of Phnom Penh, attitudes toward the election varied from indifference to concern.

In Phsar Tuol Tumpong, Neon Channeng, 22, said he gets most of his information about the election from watching television. From what he sees, he said, he thinks this election will be relatively peaceful.

Neon Channeng said he has voted for CPP twice before and will vote for the party again.

“CPP liberated people from the Khmer Rouge,” he said.

His aunt, Chea Saman, 49, who runs a juice stand, said she prefers the Sam Rainsy Party.

“I heard from the TV that Sam Rainsy promised to cut down gas­oline prices,” she said.

But, she said, like most people who work in the market, she is more interested in her own businesses than she is about politics.

She added: “I’m not worried about violence. If there is fighting, I’ll just run away.”

At the other end of the market, Prum Sophal, 56, a former math professor, said he is nervous about the possibility of election fraud.

“In order to avoid post-election disputes, the NEC and international observers have to control and monitor the process closely,” Prum Sophal said.

He said that during the 1998 elections, he and his family stockpiled food in preparation for market closures due to street clashes. This time, however, he said he isn’t worried the election will end violently.

His friend, Ieng Sarin, 60, agreed. “I’m not worried about anything but election fraud,” Ieng Sarin said. “The Cambodian people do not have trust in the government. The government plays mean tricks.”

Prum Sophal said he believes the Sam Rainsy Party is the most popular among businessmen in Phnom Penh. But, he said, re­gardless of who wins, people are now more aware of how democracy works.

“This election is better than be­fore because NGOs are teaching people about democracy,” he said. “I hope people will choose the party that they like.”


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