More than 200 people met Tuesday to talk about Cambodian elections—what went wrong, what went right, and what should be done the next time around.
And while government officials praised progress made since the 1993 national election, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy said it has all been downhill since that first UN-sponsored effort.
Prum Sokha, secretary of state for the Ministry of the Interior, opened the two-day conference at the Council for the Development of Cambodia on a positive note.
“Elections in Cambodia now have a degree of credibility, legitimacy and acceptability that could not have been envisioned a few short years ago,” he said.
“Despite various problems, the three elections were conducted with internationally recognized technical skill and honesty. It is also gratifying to note that [fewer instances of] violence and irregularities” were reported with each succeeding election, he said.
He said Cambodians gained experience in each election and pushed ahead with the 2002 commune council elections in the face of international skepticism.
Prum Sokha said the cost of elections is falling as Cambodia takes on more responsibility. The Untac-run 1993 election spent $45 per voter; in the 1998 national election, that dropped to $5 per voter; in 2002, the figure was $3.37—still more than the $1 to $3 spent by advanced democracies, but a marked improvement, he said.
But Sam Rainsy said Cambodian democracy has been “moving backward” since the 1993 elections, when he said voters had real freedom.
The opposition leader said the 1998 and 2002 elections were not as free because voters were intimidated by a series of political killings, and because state-controlled media sharply limited exposure for parties other than the ruling CPP.
Sam Rainsy also criticized the government for distributing donations before the election and said he wants expatriate Cambodians to have the right to vote in Cambodian elections.