In Cambodia: Elections & Violence
July 16, 2008
A few weeks ago, trucks carrying loudspeakers and loads of cheerful party supporters sporting colorful t-shirts invaded the normally peaceful streets of Phnom Penh. Small white posters displaying the images of party leaders started to cover walls throughout the capital city. There is no doubt about it; the election season has started.
In a country still on the learning curve of democracy, this event is indeed significant.
Music in the streets, often played as early as 5 a.m., and shouted slogans mixed with the discordant sounds of loud speakers should not conceal the reality of a “relatively” quiet campaign season. Up until now, the 4th mandate for National Assembly elections in Cambodia has been less violent than the previous one: while the 2003 elections were overshadowed by intimidation and violence, the 2008 campaign season has been generally qualified by observers, politicians, and the Cambodian National Election Committee as, for the most part, peaceful. Whether this relative tranquility is a sign of democratic maturity or of a lack of enthusiasm for an election that many believe is a foregone conclusion has yet to be determined.
This is not to suggest that all is perfect. One need only review the local media for frequent reports of incidents and irregularities. The Conflict Prevention in Cambodian Elections (COPCEL) project of the Cambodian Development Research Institute provides a daily list of election-related issues as reported in the local newspapers, TV, and radio. Reported incidents range from forced removal of party signs to outright intimidation and, in extreme cases, death threats. Incidents such as complaints of alleged vote-buying, bias, threats and violence, have also been reported.
More disturbing yet are the cases reported in the newspapers of Monday, July 14th. One official of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party is reported to have been a victim of an acid attack, not an uncommon way to treat your enemies in Cambodia, and an opposition SRP-affiliated journalist was killed last Friday in a drive-by-shooting on Phnom-Penh’s busy Monireth Boulevard at about 7:00 p.m. Although the direct link these cases may have with the election are still under investigation, observers are worried that these may be signs of an unwelcome escalation of violence in what had been considered up to now as a quiet election campaign.
Although these reports are shocking and the methods unacceptable, the current situation is nevertheless a marked improvement from the characteristic suppression and violence of past elections. As of early July, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) reported 16 cases of obstruction of political activities, intimidation, and threats against politicians and prominent political activists. In comparison, 26 incidents were reported for the same period of the 2003 elections, in which eight murders had plunged the country into mourning during the campaign season. The very existence of systematic monitoring of such election-related abuses is reassuring.
Taken alone, the decrease in violence is not a guarantee of free and fair elections; such “improvements” in many countries in the process of democratization often result from strict political control. In Cambodia’s case, what is noticeable are the recognized efforts of different stakeholders such as political parties, public officials, and civil society to monitor and denounce irregularities and to collaborate to ensure a non-violent election season. Noticeable measures have been taken by government authorities, as demonstrated by the case reported in the July 9th edition of Cambodia Daily, in which a party official was fined $1,250 for giving $150 to 20 families in exchange for votes in a rural district. Moreover, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants during the weekend of national elections is a clear attempt to eliminate potential factors of violent activity. Let’s hope that these efforts will intensify in an attempt to control the escalating violence and ensure a peaceful campaign for free and fair elections in Cambodia.
Veronique Salze-Lozach is the Regional Director for Economic Programs at The Asia Foundation’s office in Phnom Penh.
About our blog, In AsiaIn Asia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia\’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, In Asia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.
In Asia is posted and distributed every Wednesday evening, Pacific Time and is accessible via email and RSS. If you have any questions, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ContactFor questions about In Asia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to email@example.com.
The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
PO Box 193223
San Francisco, CA 94119-3223
HIGHLIGHTS ACROSS ASIA
The Asia Foundation Releases New Report on Armed Conflict, Aid, and Development in Myanmar
October 17, 2017
2017 Lotus Leadership Awards in New York City Honor Amartya Sen and Henry Luce Foundation
October 16, 2017
Thomson Reuters Highlights New Conflict Report
October 13, 2017
Asia Foundation Releases New Analysis of Conflict and Violence in 14 Asian Countries
October 11, 2017