US Elections Underscore Challenges Ahead

In Cambodia’s next national election, it could take two or three days for the results to make their way from the communes to the provincial capitals to Phnom Penh, where it could take another month for the National Elec­tion Commission to tally the votes and declare the official winner.

And so, with a bit of envy, Leng Sochea, spokesman for Cam­bodia’s election commission, sat in front of a big-screen television Wednesday watching millions of votes being tallied from the US presidential election minutes after the polls had closed.

Although the close US election was one of the most protracted in recent history, with the winner still not declared late Wednesday, the vote-count seemed lightning-fast to the watching Cambodians.

“One is a high-tech system, one is not,” Leng Sochea said. “The results are very fast. With the national election commission, one month at least… We have no money.”

Equal parts tea party and civics lesson, an election party sponsored by the US Embassy brought dozens of government leaders and lawmakers Wednes­day morn­ing to the Hotel Le Royal ballroom—decorated everywhere in red, white and blue—to await the US election results.

Opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann had come from the Nat­ional Assembly, where the lack of a quorum left parliamentarians with no business to conduct. So he sat there with several other lawmakers to watch CNN track the vote.

“I would like an election like this in Cambodia,” he said. “Un­like here in Cambodia, it’s a free and fair election.”

He said he did not care whe­ther Republican candidate George Bush or Democrat Al Gore won, but ad­ded, “From my past experience, the Republicans pay much [more] attention to Cambodia.”

Many Cambodians, he said, favor the Republicans because “They are interested in Cam­bodian policy and they don’t like communism.

“Some of the Cambodians think if a Republican wins the election, the Khmer Rouge tribunal will be pushed faster than it is now.”

Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen, said the government here would be happy with either candidate. “Even though they have some differences, the base is the same,” he said.

As the clock approached noon with the race still too close to call, Sieng Lapress, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a US citizen, was tight-lipped on his prediction. “I’m not going to say,” he said, and a smile was all he offered.

Information Minister Lu Lay­sreng, also a US citizen, was equally guarded on his politics. “I forgot to vote,” he said with a laugh, wearing a white plastic hat with red and blue stripes, handed out by the embassy.

The US Embassy conducted its own election among those who came to the gathering and the results were strikingly similar to early results of the US election. Fifty-five people voted for Bush, 50 for Gore and two for Ralph Nader.

Kek Galabru, head of one of Cambodia’s three major election monitoring groups, said either candidate will be good for Cam­bodia. “Both are against dictatorship. Both want to help people set up a good democratic system.”

And the election itself is good for Cambodia, she said.

“I hope [Cambodia’s leaders] will look at the election and take a lesson from it,” she said. “It’s free and fair and the one who lost will congratulate the loser and the loser congratulates the winner.” She added.

“People want you, you stay,” she said. “People don’t want you, step down with dignity. Dignity is important.”






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