It’s still early, but so far this election season has been a less bloody affair than the last one in 1998, according to a UN report.
True figures are difficult to determine, since not all violence against candidates can clearly be classified as political intimidation, and police are quick to dismiss such violence as due to personal disputes, but a look back at the conclusions reached by UN human rights investigators examining the 1998 election shows that the level of violence this time around may be lagging behind 1998.
For example, in the three months leading up to the 1998 elections, more than 30 people were slain in what party activists called election-related killings.
The UN, however, concluded that of those 30 cases, six were clear political killings, another dozen appeared not to be political, while the evidence in the remaining cases suggested both political and personal motives.
Cambodia’s first-ever commune council election is still four months away, so numbers cannot be compared directly. So far, party activists say four candidates have been killed for political reasons; police deny the cases are political.
While the official number of candidates this time around isn’t known yet, it will be much higher than in 1998, when voters selected candidates for 122 National Assembly seats.
In the commune council election in February, voters will fill between four and 11 seats in each of the nation’s 1,621 communes, meaning that thousands more Cambodians will be seeking political office than ever before.
But this election cycle does indeed seem less violent, said Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights group Licadho.
“I remember in 1998, we had more political killings and people wounded,” she said.
Still, that’s not the point, the human rights activist said.
“Even if there is only one killing, that is one too many. Those killed so far this year were popular candidates, and the message is clear. Even if the local authorities claim these are not political killings, people are really afraid,” she said.
In 1998, the violence didn’t stop with the balloting. On July 26, Election Day, 11 people were killed near Anlong Veng, apparently by Khmer Rouge forces. And the carnage continued in the two months following the elections, as citizens demonstrated to protest the polling results.
By the end of September 1998, investigators had concluded that at least 24 deaths in August and September were election-related, another 10 were suspect and at least 77 people had been injured.