CAMBODIAN ELECTION IN 2013
General elections were held in Cambodia on July 28, 2013 to elect legislators for 123-seat National Assembly (parliament). According to the National Election Committee (NEC), 9.67 million Cambodians were registered to vote. Polling station opened ay 7:00am and closed at 3:00pm. Eight parties competed for for the 123 parliamentary seats, with Prime Minister Hun Sen seeking his fourth term. More than 7,700 domestic and international observers monitored the election. [Source: Wikipedia. AFP ]
In the election Hun Sen’s Cambodian People's Party was pitted against and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party ostensibly led by Sam Rainsy. In 2012, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party merged to form the Cambodian National Rescue Party. However, party leader Sam Rainsy was barred from running as a candidate because he was not registered to vote. The voter roll was finalised in December 2012, at which time Rainsy was living abroad after being controversially convicted in 2010 of making changes to a map to suggest the country was losing land to neighbouring Vietnam. Rainsy returned to Cambodia in July 2013 after he received a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni, but Rainsy failed to have his name reinstated on the voter roll and was not eligible for candidacy in the election.
Voting, like the campaign itself, was for the most part peaceful. Cambodia had its first televised debate on 20 and 21 July. The US-funded National Democratic Institute also sponsored nine town hall-style debates with provincial candidates from almost all parties.
Results of the Cambodian Election in 2013
The Cambodian People's Party won 68 of 123 seats and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party won all the remaining 55 seats. The voter turnout was 68 percent. The previous parliamentary elections in 2008 were won by the Cambodian People's Party, which managed to secure an absolute majority of the seats: 90 out of 123.
In 2008, despite winning a parliamentary majority, the CPP chose to form a coalition with the royalist FUNCINPEC, which won 2 seats. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party won a combined total of 29 seats.
The ruling CPP party received 48.79 percent of the votes, earned 68 seats, while the CNRP party won 55 seats with 44.45 percent of the vote. By losing 22 seats from the previous election, the CPP earned the fewest percentage of seats that it has had in the National Assembly since 1998. Other parties, including the Funcinpec Party and League for Democracy Party combined for 0 seats on 6.3 percent of the vote.
2013 Election Results (Party: Votes, percent, Seats, +/–): A) Cambodian People's Party: 3,235,969, 48.83, 68, -22; B) Cambodia National Rescue Party: 2,946,176, 44.46, 55, +26; C) Funcinpec Party: 242,413, 3.66, 0, -2; D) League for Democracy Party: 68,389, 1.03, 0, 0; E) Khmer Anti-Poverty Party: 43,222, 0.65, 0, 0; F) Cambodian Nationality Party (a new party): 38,123, 0.58, 0: G) Khmer Economic Development Party (a new party): 33,715, 0.51, 0; H) Democratic Republican Party (a new party): 19,152, 0.29, 0. Total , 6,627,159 , 123 seats. [Source: Source: National Election Committee]
Controversies and Irregularities in the 2013 Cambodian Election
The CPP claimed victory in the election. The opposition said it would have won the election had it been fair. While China and Vietnam quickly offered its congratulations to Hun Sen on his election "victory", the European Union and U.S. expressed concern for the concern about possible irregularities. U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that "we call for a transparent and full investigation of all credible reports of irregularities. We urge all parties and their supporters to continue to act in an orderly and peaceful manner in the post-election period."
Opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, declared, “There are too many irregularities, with far-reaching implications.”"There were 1.2 million to 1.3 million people whose names were missing and could not vote. Sam Rainsy told a news conference. “They deleted our rights to vote, how could we recognize this election?""There were ghost names, names only on paper." Rights groups have criticized the electoral system as heavily biased in favor of the ruling party. The European Union declined to deploy poll monitors for this election after Cambodia did not act on its previous recommendations. The Transparency International group, which helped monitor the election, cited various irregularities in the vote and said in a statement it was "very concerned about the disenfranchisement of citizens and suspect voters".
According to the Washington Post: “Election monitors reported that scores of people were turned away because their names were not on voter lists, and supposedly indelible ink to prevent fraud was easily washed off. On top of this, systematic problems in the election process were reported, including campaigning by security officers for the ruling party and unequal access to the media for opposition parties. Moreover, Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister, was permitted to return to Cambodia only in the days before the balloting. Clearly, the country’s long-serving prime minister, Hun Sen, has not abandoned his authoritarian ways. [Source: Washington Post Editorial Board, July 29, 2013]
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement that read that "the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) appears to have been involved in electoral fraud" and called for an "independent commission" to investigate "allegations of election fraud and other irregularities, including bias in the election machinery". Brad Adams, HRW's Asia Director, further stated that some of the fraud consisted of "senior ruling party officials appear to have been involved in issuing fake election documents and fraudulently registering voters in multiple provinces." There were also claims of voter intimidation as the ruling party controlled the apparatus of state control.
Since Cambodia has no official population count for the last five years, the country's population figure is merely quantitative, which has led to incorrect projection of possible voters – making it difficult for the National Election Commission to ascertain the number of actual voters that should be listed in Cambodia's voting rolls. The lack of actual population count could have led to fraudulent voting, such as voters voting in multiple precincts using different names. According to the opposition CNRP, between 1.2 and 1.3 million names were omitted from voting rolls. [Source: Wikipedia +]
One of the controversies that beset the Cambodian election before it even began was the use of an ostensibly indelible ink that was used to mark which voters had already voted.The ink had previously been donated by the Indian Embassy in Cambodia. Documentation by poll monitors before the election demonstrated the ink could simply be washed off using bleach or lime juice in minutes upon drying. The ink used could have perhaps allowed voters to vote more than once. Migrant Vietnamese have also allegedly been able to register as voters due to lax identification policies in Cambodia. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party played up this anti-Vietnamese rhetoric in campaigning leading up to the election. +
Cambodia’s Campaigning before the 2013 Election
In late June 2013, AFP reported: “Cambodia officially started campaigning for next month's general election, expected to be won by strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen who is seeking to extend his 28-year grip on the country. Thousands of supporters from several political parties took to Phnom Penh's streets in colourful rival rallies, as cars and motorcycles adorned with banners roared through the capital. The rallies, held one month ahead of July 28 polls, mark the official start of election season in the kingdom. The idiosyncratic Hun Sen last month said he would try to stay in power for more than a decade, until he is 74. He previously vowed to hold office until he reaches 90. [Source: Suy Se, AFP, June 27, 2013 <>]
“While all political parties are free to canvass voters and hold public events, observers say there is little chance of unseating the incumbent Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities. Hun Sen and other CPP leaders marked the start of campaigning by receiving a blessing from the country's top Buddhist monks in front of tens of thousands of supporters. "Making a right decision will bring more success, but a wrong decision will be a setback and a huge danger for the nation," Heng Samrin, CPP honorary president, told the rally. A CPP victory will prevent the return of a genocidal regime similar to the Khmer Rouge of the late 1970s, he added, alluding to allegations by his party that the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) would lurch the nation towards conflict. <>
“Analysts said the CPP's greater financial muscle and support of most local media, including television stations, would see off a political challenge. "All these things have an influence over the voters," Kol Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia, told AFP. "We also see the difference (between the CPP and CNRP) in term of finance. The CPP has a lot of financial resources, including state resources and private support". He said there was about a "10-times difference" in spending power between the CPP and its main rival. Despite the unfavourable odds, Kem Sokha, acting president of CNRP, told supporters that a CNRP victory would see an end to endemic corruption. <>
"For 30 years under the leadership by this government, there is rampant corruption from top to bottom, systematic corruption," he told his cheering supporters. "A vote for the CNRP will boost the standard of living for Cambodian people.. something that the ruling party has not achieved in the last 30 years," he added. Kem Sokha is facing a defamation lawsuit filed by survivors of the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng torture prison, after he allegedly said the jail was a Vietnamese fabrication. The CNRP have denounced the move as the latest in a series of politically motivated smears aimed at the opposition party ahead of the election.” <>
Sam Rainsy Returns Home, Joins Poll Campaign
In mid July, about 10 days before the election, “ opposition leader Sam Rainsy returned home from exile after a royal pardon removed the threat of a jail term and he immediately joined the campaign to unseat Hun Sen in the July 2013 election. Rainsy, who lived in exile in France to avoid prison, had a string of convictions that the opposition said were politically motivated. A former finance minister, Sam Rainsy was sentenced to 12 years in prison in absentia in 2010 on charges of spreading disinformation and falsifying maps to contest a new border agreed by Cambodia and Vietnam. Rainsy chose exile the previous year rather than face trial for what U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said at the time were politically motivated charges that showed Hun Sen was "no longer interested in even the pretence of democracy".
Prak Chan Thul of Reuters wrote: Rainsy “received a rapturous welcome at Phnom Penh airport from tens of thousands of supporters, who stopped traffic, forcing some passengers to leave on foot with their luggage. Later, addressing a huge crowd at Freedom Park in the capital, he thanked King Norodom Sihamoni for the pardon and said: "I have received my full freedom and will use this freedom to protect Cambodians in the whole country." [Source: Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, July 19, 2013 *+*]
“Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), formed through a merger last year, including the Sam Rainsy Party, is mounting a strong campaign with a simple slogan: "Change". "We must have absolute change, the change from being inferior to being a developed and civilized country," Sam Rainsy told supporters in the park. He appealed for the votes of low-level government workers who feared they might lose their jobs if the government changed, saying they would not be dismissed but that a CNPR government would pursue more senior officials suspected of corruption. Police said there had been scuffles between supporters of the two parties, but only minor injuries were reported. *+*
“Hun Sen’s request to King Norodom Sihamoni to pardon Sam Rainsy came as a surprise, but it may have been aimed at fending off criticism from the United States, European Union and others after allegations by his opponents of electoral misconduct. In the letter carrying the request, read out on state television, he said this was based on "national reconciliation" and the fact that Sam Rainsy's return would ensure the July 28 election was democratic and free. *+*
“At that point it still was not clear if Sam Rainsy would be able to contest a parliamentary seat, but did galvanize the CNRP campaign around the country. "I came here just to see him, I miss him and I love him," Kong Oun, 66, said at the airport. "He is the cleanest person in the nation and the CNRP will win the election if there is no cheating." Independent analyst Chea Vannath said the turnout at the rally proved that Sam Rainsy had huge support and the newly merged opposition could make gains in the election. "The two parties are unified. That's what their supporters wanted and there is growing support among the youth," she said. "Sam Rainsy's return has made the support even stronger, this is a boost for the opposition party and that they will win more seats." *+*
“The Sam Rainsy Party had 26 of the 123 seats in the outgoing parliament and the newly merged party had 29 in total, with Hun Sen's CPP accounting for 90. Five weeks earlier, after a CPP-dominated committee expelled the 29 opposition lawmakers from parliament, the U.S. State Department called for "a political process that includes the full participation of all political parties on a level playing field". The parliamentary committee had said the 29 were not eligible to sit since the parties for which they were elected no longer existed.” *+*
Hun Sen Shaken, Opposition Buoyed But Still Rejected 2013 Election Result
Prak Chan Thul of Reuters wrote: “Cambodia's long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen faced his biggest political setback in two decades as the country's opposition rejected an election result as tainted by widespread fraud, despite heavy losses for the ruling party. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, buoyed by a near doubling of seats in parliament, called for an inquiry into what he called massive manipulation of electoral rolls in Sunday's vote. [Source: Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, July 29, 2013]
The government announced late that Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had won 68 seats in the 123-seat parliament to the opposition's 55, a loss of 22 seats for the ruling party.That marked the 60-year-old Hun Sen's worst election result since the war-torn country returned to full democracy in 1998, although the CPP retained a governing majority to enable the prime minister to extend his 28-year rule. Prolonged wrangling over the result and a weakened Hun Sen could raise policy uncertainty in the small but fast-growing Southeast Asian nation that is drawing growing investor interest and has forged strong economic ties with China and Vietnam.
But the opposition's chances of overturning the outcome are slim given the ruling party's grip on the courts and with major foreign donors like the United States unlikely to reject the result without evidence of massive fraud. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said it wanted an investigation committee set up with representatives from political parties, the United Nations, the election authority and non-governmental organizations.
The opposition tapped into growing concern among Cambodians over rising inequality and entrenched corruption that Hun Sen's critics say his policies have exacerbated. The loss of its two-thirds majority means the CPP will need opposition support to enact any changes in the constitution. But Hun Sen still has the ability to control policymaking through his majority and the entrenched networks of political influence he has built within the CPP. "It's definitely unprecedented and unexpected but for now I don't think regime stability is at stake," said Giulia Zino, a Southeast Asia analyst at Control Risks group in Singapore.
Cambodia's election commission has yet to announce how many seats each party has won, and will not announce full, official results until August 15 at the earliest. The CPP, backed by a compliant domestic media and superior resources, had been confident of victory. Analysts had predicted a reduction in its majority after the merger of two main opposition parties, as well as the return of Sam Rainsy, but the extent of opposition gains was a surprise.
Rising garment exports plus heavy flows of aid and investment from China have fuelled rapid economic growth, but that has been accompanied by a rise in social tension.Cambodians have protested more frequently over poor conditions in the garment industry and land rights in the country of 14 million, where a third of people live on less than 65 U.S. cents per day.
Opposition Inroads Show Cambodia Could Be on a Path to Change
According to a Washington Post editorial: “It is not surprising that Cambodia’s opposition party rejected the outcome of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, despite a strong showing. But it would be a mistake to write off the vote as just another day in Hun Sen’s 28-year rule, which has brought a certain stability to Cambodia along with his heavy hand. The outcome suggests that democratic awakenings are afoot, despite the odds. [Source: Washington Post Editorial Board, July 29, 2013 <=>]
“In the previous parliament, the governing Cambodian People’s Party held 90 of the 123 seats, but after this election it will hold only 68 seats. The main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, appears to have won 55 seats, compared with only 29that two now-merged opposition parties held previously. If these totals hold, the new balance of power will make it much harder for Hun Sen to amend the constitution, which requires two-thirds of the National Assembly, and give the opposition a larger voice on other matters. <=>
“Although Hun Sen has enjoyed strong support in the countryside, the vote underscored growing frustration with corruption and huge land concessions to Chinese and Vietnamese companies, which have benefited the prime minister’s allies. Cambodia’s economic growth has been rapid but has come with increasing tensions over wealth disparity. According to a report in the Economist from Phnom Penh, the surge for the opposition may also mark a generational shift and the emergence of a powerful youth vote; those who were born as Cambodia’s civil wars were ending two decades ago are just now coming of age. Armed with smartphones and social media, they “went to the barricades” for the opposition. This tended to blunt the impact of government-friendly media. <=>
“Sam Rainsy stirred crowds with his calls for change and clear populist streak. He returned to Cambodia from Paris on July 19 after a royal pardon removed the threat of a jail term; he was convicted in absentia in 2010 on criminal charges that observers said were politically motivated. Sam Rainsy has called for an independent committee to investigate the polling irregularities. But at a news conference he correctly captured the meaning of the vote: “People came in great numbers to express their will and democracy seemed to move forward.” <=>
Prak Chan Thul of Reuters wrote: “The urban population has swelled in recent years, giving rise to a new generation of young voters who have access to wider sources of information online and who tend to support the opposition. "Democracy is stronger in Cambodia than most outsiders anticipated," said Douglas Clayton, the chief executive of the Leopard Capital investment fund in Phnom Penh. "The government will likely become more consultative and sensitive to public opinion." [Source: Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, July 29, 2013]
AFTER THE CAMBODIAN ELECTION IN 2013
After the election, there were complaints of election fraud. Sam Rainsy declared that "We will not accept the result – we cannot accept the result...The party in power cannot ignore us anymore." The Cambodian government denied calls by international organisations for an independent election review, while the government rejected calls for a review and the National Election Committee (NEC) denied irregularities.
Associated Press reported: “The opposition has contested the outcome of the July 28 election, saying it would have won the majority of seats had the election been fair, but its legal challenges were rejected. It had threatened street protests and a boycott of the assembly unless until its demand for an independent probe of alleged election irregularities was met. [Source: Sopheng Cheang and Justine Drennan, Associated Press, September 8, 2013]
Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 28 years and remains firmly in control, although the opposition won significantly more seats than it had in the past. He has a record of cracking down on the opposition after previous elections, but the surprising strength of the opposition, also reflected in a close popular vote, has raised speculation he may try to play the reform card this time around to placate critics and accommodate the public will. "The Cambodian People's Party understands the message that the people expressed through their ballots for the need for the new government to undertake reforms," said Khieu Kanharith, Hun Sen's Information Minister and spokesman for his ruling party. "We'll undertake thorough reforms for the sake of our country."
The government deployed troops and armored vehicles into the capital days after the election. Hun Sen has a reputation for dealing harshly with opponents. David Chandler, a leading Cambodia scholar, said it would be wise for the opposition lawmakers to simply take up the 55 seats they won rather than risk losing their say in government. "I can sympathize with the CNRP, but I think they're being very unrealistic in their demands for power," he said.
Cambodian Election Board Ratifies Ruling Party Win
In September 2013, about six weeks after the election took place, Associated Press reported: “Cambodia's state election board has ratified the victory of incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party, rejecting opposition claims that the polls were unfair. The results announced on state television Sunday morning handed 68 National Assembly seats to Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party and 55 to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Although the results have now been settled by the announcement from the National Election Committee, there is no sign there will be an immediate lessening of the political tension that has wracked the country since the contentious polls. The new parliament is supposed to be seated within 60 days of the election. [Source: Sopheng Cheang and Justine Drennan, Associated Press, September 8, 2013 >><<]
“Nearly 20,000 opposition supporters gathered Saturday in Cambodia's capital to cheer their leaders' demands for an investigation of what their leaders said was vote tampering and widespread voter disenfranchisement. The opposition vowed Sunday to continue its protests. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said his party would follow through with a protest plan announced at a rally. "We will not recognize any result proclaimed by the NEC," he said, adding it was "no surprise" the government-appointed election board would announce a victory for Hun Sen's party. "We will continue to protest all over the country, not only in Phnom Penh. Protests will take the form of marches," he said. Asked what he expected to accomplish with such activities, he responded: "It's a matter of principle. We want the truth to be established, the truth for the Cambodian people. The truth that has been distorted and even reversed by the NEC." >><<
Protests After the Cambodian Election in 2013
One man died and 10 were injured as demonstrators call for investigation into voting irregularities after Hun Sen poll victory was ratified by the election board. Kate Hodal wrote in The Guardian, “Protesters have taken to the streets of the Cambodian capital again after Sunday's march disputing Hun Sen's recent re-election as prime minister turned violent, leaving one dead and several more injured. Roughly 1,000 demonstrators camped out overnight in Phnom Penh's Freedom park and were joined by hundreds more calling for an independent investigation into voting irregularities that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue party claims may have cost them the election. [Source: Kate Hodal, The Guardian, September 16, 2013 ::::]
“The demonstrations present a formidable challenge to Hun Sen's 28-year-reign, with many protesters openly angry and discussing their political opinions for the first time in a country where dissent has in the past been met with prison sentences. The protests coincided with negotiations between Hun Sen and opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, which ended with a three-point agreement promising to calm the situation without the use of violence, continue discussions between the two parties and reform the national election commission, which many believe is a stooge of the ruling government. ::::
“CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann hailed the talks as a success for the opposition, although its most immediate role may lie in the way it handles the current protests, said Ou Virak of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. "The CNRP's position [regarding the protests] has always been on investigating the irregularities of the election, so in accepting the reform of the NEC as a key part of the agenda, the CNRP has shifted its focus on to reform," he said. "This means they are not trying to solve the current election dispute but trying to prevent this from occurring again in the future. This shift of mindset is really, I think, significant." ::::
“As a constitutional council also ruled that all irregularities had already been investigated and no further investigation was needed, it is also highly unlikely that the government would act otherwise, whether or not these demonstrations may be part of a larger "Cambodian spring", said political analyst Carl Thayer. "If Hun Sen agreed to an outside investigation at this stage, that would be tantamount to conceding that the elections were rigged," he said. ::::
“The protest turnout was considerably smaller than an earlier gathering of 20,000, during which crowds swelled in Freedom park before marching through the streets. Sunday's demonstrations started peacefully but took a violent turn when some protesters reportedly tried to remove roadblocks on a bridge near CNRP headquarters, leading to clashes with police. ::::
Eyewitnesses claim the man killed on Sunday was shot in the head. He was not part of the protests but one of a number of people trying to get home past the barricades. Several others were shot in the face and neck in the clashes, the Phnom Penh Post reported. But National Military police spokesman Khen Tito told Reuters that police had only used teargas, batons and smoke grenades against the protesters and could not be held accountable for what happened to the man who died. "I don't know how he was killed," he said. "We didn't use live bullets."
Six people were arrested for post-election violence in September. In February 2014, a court ordered the release of three men, but found three others guilty of incitement of violence. Nguyen Thi Duc was given a reduced sentence of one year while two others were given reduced sentences of 25 days. Human rights groups say prosecutors failed to show any evidence the six were involved in the violence. Am Sam Ath, head of monitoring for the rights group Licadho, says charges should have been dropped for all six. “They only came across the scene, and the authorities arrested them and put them in jail,” he said. “The authorities who opened fire and injured and killed people, why have they not been brought to justice?” [Source: Kimseng Men, Heng Reaksmey, Radio Free Asia, February 28, 2014]
Hun Sen: Punished at the Polls But Still Smiling as Opposition Calls for Reforms
Andrew R.C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul of Reuters wrote: “His party is reeling from its worst-ever election result. His political opponents have grown bold and vocal. His people are protesting on the streets. So why is Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen smiling? The long-ruling autocrat emerged beaming from lengthy closed-door meetings with his old political foe, Sam Rainsy, who says Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) cheated its way to a narrow victory in a July 28 general election. [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, September 18, 2013 |+|]
“Hun Sen's composure suggests his renewed confidence in breaking the political deadlock and extending his nearly three decades of rule by another five years, say analysts. His smiling photo-ops, however, could also hint at changes ahead for Hun Sen. After millions of Cambodian voters deserted the CPP in an election widely regarded as tainted, Hun Sen appears intent on softening his remote and fearsome image. |+|
“Hun Sen's cordial talks with the opposition come as a surprise considering his past ruthlessness with political opponents and his history of antagonism with Sam Rainsy. Sam Rainsy says the CNRP was robbed of 2.3 million votes that would have handed it victory in July. But Hun Sen rejects his demand for an independent inquiry into election fraud. "If Hun Sen agreed to an outside investigation at this stage that would be tantamount to conceding the elections were rigged," said Carlyle A. Thayer, a Cambodia expert at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia. |+|
“CNRP supporters at Phnom Penh's Freedom Park waved placards reading "Where is my vote?" and chanted "Change! Change!"With hopes of an inquiry fading, Sam Rainsy must now convince them to get behind a longer-term campaign to fix the electoral system. "(The CNRP) will have to reconcile themselves to the fact that they are the opposition party for the next five years," said Thayer. |+|
“The CNRP wants reforms to the National Election Committee, the body stuffed with former CPP officials, as well as its own television station to break Hun Sen's stranglehold on the country's media, which has largely avoided covering the protests. The CNRP is also angling for the presidency or deputy presidency of the National Assembly, as well as positions on parliamentary committees long dominated by Hun Sen loyalists, say analysts. "Without these concessions, the CNRP will not be able to achieve very much," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. Hun Sen must also reform his own aging and corruption-riddled party. "Internally, the CPP is one big mess - from nepotism and family ties through marriage, to economic deals that favour close allies," Ou Virak said. |+|
“But while Hun Sen might add some new faces to his cabinet, he will not risk destabilising the party by removing its most powerful figures, said Ou Virak. "The party will remain out of touch with the young and ambitious Cambodian population as a result," he said. That he is talking to the opposition at all suggests Hun Sen is changing too, said social analyst Kem Ley. "He has been quiet, which means he is listening more now," he said. "And he is smiling - that's already a positive sign." Even so, autocrats aren't exactly famous for makeovers. "Power shouldn't be centred on one man," said Kem Ley. "He must have faith in other people. In his system, he doesn't trust anyone except for himself." |+|
Cambodian Parliament Meets amid Boycott by Opposition
In late September 2013, Al-Jazeera reported: “Cambodia's parliament convened despite a boycott by the opposition. King Norodom Sihamoni opened the session - the first since the July polls won by incumbent Hun Sen - and urged the country to "stand united", as parliament was surrounded by heavy security. Hun Sen was sworn in for another five-year term as Prime Minister the next day. [Source: Al-Jazeera, September 23, 2013 <^>]
“No opposition MPs were present at the meeting after vowing a boycott over their demands for an independent investigation into the election. Dissatisfaction with the election saw three days of demonstrations earlier this month, which descended into violence when a protester was shot dead as security forces clashed with a stone-throwing crowd. <^>
“Security has been stepped up around official buildings in recent days, with anti-riot police and road blocks near parliament in the capital Phnom Penh. The opposition, which held a ceremony on two days earlier for its MPs to swear not to attend Monday's parliament meeting, said it had not changed its demands. CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told AFP news agency that the legislature was "undemocratic" to have opened with only ruling party members. <^>
“Cambodia's king urged lawmakers to work towards social justice and good governance in his speech to parliament. "The Cambodian nation must stand united and show the highest national solidarity on the basis of the implementation of the principles of democracy and rule of law," he said. Several rounds of talks between Hun Sen and Rainsy over the past week failed to break the deadlock, raising fears of a protracted dispute and further mass protests. <^>
Associated Press reported: “It has said that would deprive Hun Sen of the necessary quorum to form a new government. Hun Sen's response was that the law would allow him to form a new government anyway. In previous election years, opposition members have boycotted initial National Assembly sessions and later been admitted into the body. But a boycott could mean the opposition loses out on parliamentary leadership positions such as committee chairmanships. Another opposition leader, Mu Sochua, said that if opposition lawmakers take their seats without further protests, "the people will be very angry. We have to be careful before we make a move."
In Largest Protest Since Polls, Cambodians Demand Re-Election
In December 2013, Radio Free Asia reported: In the largest demonstration since the disputed July elections, hundreds of thousands of Cambodia's opposition party supporters marched through the streets of the capital Phnom Penh calling for Prime Minister Hun to step down and to announce new polls. "This is a historic day," Rainsy declared, estimating that about 500,000 people participated in the march. "The demonstrators demand Hun Sen step down," he said, shouting, "Hun Sen please step down." The crowd echoed his demand. [Source: Radio Free Asia, December 22, 2013]
"There were about 500,000 protesters who occupied a length of 5 kilometers [about 3 miles] of the long, wide, and straight Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh," Sam Rainsy said on his Facebook page, posting photos of the mass gathering. "The head of the CNRP procession had already reached the corner with Mao Tse Tung Boulevard when its tail was still at Democracy Square [Freedom Park]. Given the people density of the crowd as seen on these photos [about 100 persons per meter] the number of protesters could easily reach 500,000," he said.
The CNRP, which has boycotted parliament saying it was robbed of victory due to poll fraud, launched daily mass protests a week ago to force a re-election after its calls for an independent election probe into irregularities were dismissed by the government. It has vowed to keep up daily protests for three months or until there is a fresh vote. But Hun Sen rejected the call for his resignation and fresh elections, saying there is no provision in the country's constitution that allows for a re-election. “They ask me to resign, but what have I done wrong?” Hun Sen said. “I obtained my position by means of the constitution and I will only leave it by means of the constitution,” he said. Hun Sen, said that according to article 78 of the constitution, the National Assembly shall not be dissolved before the end of its five-year term, except when the government is twice deposed within a period of 12 months.
Sam Rainsy insists that the party is determined to get to the bottom of the election irregularities, saying the people had been denied their choice of government. "CNRP's strength comes from the people's strength. Nobody can win over the people's strength," he said. Talks between the CPP and CNRP to break the political stalemate have stalled after their latest meeting yielded little progress, with the CPP calling on elected CNRP lawmakers to end their boycott and resolve any complaints from within parliament.
The CNRP threatened to block key highways leading into the capital Phnom Penh and seize state buildings if the government continues to ignore opposition demands. Hun Sen had said the CNRP’s plan could harm the country’s “national security” and warned of government action. “The government is tolerant of peaceful demonstrations but will not allow any illegal activities that provoke social instability,” he said.
Some of the demonstrators who participated in the march Sunday from their base at Freedom Park to the city center said in speeches that they were fed up with various issues affecting the country, citing social injustice, corruption, unemployment, and land grabs. One protester, speaking from the top of a CNRP vehicle, told the crowd that she joined the demonstration because she could not find a job after graduation and after her father had invested heavily in her education. "I would like to ask Hun Sen to resign [so that] Sam Rainsy and [deputy CNRP president] Kem Sokha can help the students, regardless of whether they are poor or rich," she said. Another protester said she wants Sam Rainsy to be the new prime minister.
The CNRP has deployed thousands of supporters to help maintain security during the protest marches and at Freedom Park, where many of them have camped out. The heightened security came after several vehicles dumped garbage transported from elsewhere at the park in an apparent attempt to blame the party for the piles of trash accumulated in the area.
Garment Workers Join the Anti-Hun-Se Protests
A week or so later, Prak Chan Thul of Reuters reported: “Tens of thousands of Cambodian opposition supporters, backed by striking garment-factory workers, rallied to demand long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen step down and call an election. The garment workers have in recent days joined the opposition protests to press their demand that the government raise the minimum wage to $160 a month from $95, as recommended on December 24. "Hun Sen and his illegal government can hear us, they can't ignore us, the people show their will for change," Sam Rainsy, told the rally in a Phnom Penh park. "We demand that Hun Sen to steps down and a new election" Some protestors had been camping out in the park since December 15. [Source: Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, December 29, 2013]
Many of them have now come out onto the street in a sustained show of defiance that would have been almost unthinkable before the election. Cambodia's garment manufacturers, meanwhile, have for years enjoyed low wages and relaxed labour conditions. But Chea Mony, president of the country's biggest labour union, the Free Trade Union, told Reuters that more than 200 of 600 factories had closed because of the strike for higher pay. "The new minimum wage is not acceptable to workers so there must be talks on the demand for $160," Chea Mony said. Garment and shoe factory representative said the strike was damaging the industry. "The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia would like to inform all stakeholders that our industry is unable to continue operations given the current situation," association Secretary General Ken Loo said in a statement.
Hun Sen Moves to Suppress Cambodian Opposition After Protestors Are Killed
In early January 2014, five striking garment workers were shot dead while peacefully demanding a minimum wage increase in the outskirts of Phnom Penh and police violently dispersed CNRP supporters at the capital's Freedom Park after they demanded that Hun Sen step down and hold fresh elections. Many others were severely injured by gunfire and beatings. More than 20 have been detained without trial. Afterwards Hun Sen moved to suppress growing street protests.
AFP reported: “Cambodia’s opposition leaders have been summoned to court on suspicion of inciting civil unrest, their party said, after the government of strongman Hun Sen moved to suppress growing street protests. Police have banned further rallies, after several demonstrators were shot dead. Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha, were summoned to Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 14 for questioning "in the case of incitement to commit criminal offences or serious social unrest", according to warrants posted on the opposition website. Rainsy said they were ready to defend themselves at the hearing. "We have done nothing wrong. On the contrary, it will be an opportunity for us to help expose the truth," he said.[Source: AFP, January 6, 2014]
On January 3rd, police opened fire on striking garment factory employees demanding a minimum wage of $US160 ($179) a month for their work in an industry which supplies brands like Gap, Nike and H&M. Rights activists said at least four civilians were shot dead in what they described as the country's worst state violence against its citizens in 15 years. A day later, dozens of security personnel armed with shields and batons chased hundreds of protesters - including monks, women and children - from their rally base in a park in the capital, according to activists.
Police and civilian thugs "used metre-long steel poles to beat the peaceful protesters" before tearing down the rally site, according to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights. Freedom Park, also known as Democracy Park, was opened by the government in 2010 as a designated area for people to air their grievances, and protesters had occupied the site since last month as part of demonstrations against the contested election. An estimated 20,000 or more opposition supporters took to the streets of the capital a week earlier to demand Mr Hun Sen step down.
The Prime Minister's ruling Cambodian People's Party realised it faced an "unprecedented threat" from a growing alliance between the factory workers and the opposition, Mr Rainsy said. "This is a matter of survival for the CPP," he added. He said it would seek to draw on the strength of its growing support from factory workers. "When the workers go back to their village, they convince their family to support the opposition."
Cambodian Opposition Cancels Rally to Avoid 'Troublemakers'
In late January 2014, Radio Free Asia reported: “The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) canceled a planned rally in a central province, alleging that Prime Minister Hun Sen's party had sent a group of people to cause trouble at the gathering, days after the government violently cracked down on opposition protests and workers' strikes. CNRP President Sam Rainsy and Deputy President Kem Sokha said they aborted their trip to Kandal province, a Hun Sen stronghold which surrounds the capital Phnom Penh, to avoid falling into the "trap" of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) which they said was planning to incite violence. [Source: Radio Free Asia January 21, 2014]
Sam Rainsy said the CPP "transported about 1,000 Hun Sen bodyguards who were disguised [to provoke problems]" at the site teeming with security forces who appeared prepared to suppress any violence. He said that his party cancelled the gathering to avoid clashes between CNRP supporters and security forces. “This is a trick that was played to arrest us and jail us," Eng Chhay Eang, the CNRP’s head in Kandal, was quoted saying by The Phnom Penh Post newspaper. "We do not play this game, [so] we decided to postpone.” Security forces took no action to disperse the large group of potential troublemakers at the rally site despite requests from the opposition, local CNRP officials said.
Kem Sokha however vowed to continue holding CNRP rallies. "We will continue our political activities peacefully. We are trying to avoid violence. We don't use violent means to resolve issues like the ruling party does," he said. A day earlier, Cambodian police briefly detained nearly a dozen activists trying to petition Western embassies for help in gaining the release of 23 protesters arrested during the deadly crackdown on striking garment workers.
The 11 activists were released after they were asked to sign police documents promising not to hold "illegal demonstrations" in the future, said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, who was among those briefly held.The others held were Tep Vany, a representative of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community residents, who were evicted to make way for a luxury development project, and nine other villagers. "All we want is justice," Tep Vany said.
Cambodian Political Talks Open With Election Finance Deal
In March 2014, the Voice of America News reported: “Cambodia’s main parties have opened talks to end their longstanding political deadlock, with an agreement to create a law governing the regulation of financing for political parties A joint statement by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party announced the initiative Monday. But Rescue Party officials say there are other electoral reform issues they want discussed in the talks, including a recall election after losing in July polls they say were marred by fraud. [Source: VOA News, March 03, 2014]
Son Chhay, the Rescue Party’s chief negotiator, said “After discussing all these points and see what else needs to be reformed, we will then start to take action,” he said. “For instance, like holding national conferences and public forum together, and what needs to go first and what else needs to go next. We will consult with national and international NGOs accordingly.”
Bin Khin, a representative of the CPP in talks, said any reforms will be dependent on the national legislature. “All of the reforms will end up on the national assembly floor for debates. Without the national assembly, reform is impossible,” he said. The opposition refused to take its seats in parliament following elections in July, accusing the ruling party of voter fraud.
Challenges for Hun Sen
Former Australia foreign minister Gareth Evans wrote in Project Syndicate, “For far too long, Hun Sen and his colleagues have been getting away with violence, human-rights abuses, corruption, and media and electoral manipulation without serious internal or external challenge. But things are beginning to change. A credible new opposition party – the Cambodia National Rescue Party – has emerged under Sam Rainsy (who looks a little more like a national leader now than just a monochromatic anti-Vietnamese crusader), gaining significant popular support. A large number of social-media-savvy young voters have been turning out in the streets demanding a change of government. [Source: Gareth Evans, Project Syndicate, March 7, 2014]
Andrew R.C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul of Reuters wrote: “The CPP's shock election result could force him to change both his party and leadership style. "Hun Sen and his party must change drastically and fast to be able to remain a relevant political force," said Lao Mong Hay, a prominent Cambodian academic. "They need to work as servants of the people, not their masters." Cambodia's youthful population - about 70 percent of its 14 million people are under 30 - is focused on more immediate concerns, including land grabbing, labour disputes, joblessness and rampant corruption. [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul, Reuters, September 18, 2013]
Future of Cambodia and Hun Sen’s Heir?
Many Cambodians worry that there country is like a house of cards that could collapse at any time. Some keep their passports handy and have an evacuation plan ready to escape to Thailand or Vietnam. Others worry Hun Sen is preparing himself to be a monarch.
Craig Whitlock wrote in the Washington Post: “In recent years, the U.S. government has kept a careful diplomatic distance from Hun Sen, the prime minister who consolidated political control after a bloody 1997 coup and has forced opponents into exile. The Pentagon and the State Department, however, have embraced his three sons, all of whom hold influential posts in the Cambodian government and military. [Source: Craig Whitlock, Washington Post November 15, 2012 <>]
“U.S. officials have invested in their relationship with Hun Manet, the eldest son, in particular, giving him a free ride to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated in 1999. He earned a master’s degree in economics from New York University. Today, the 35-year-old, widely seen as the heir apparent to his father, is a major general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, in which he serves as deputy commander of the army. “I’m sure that’s why he was sent to West Point in the first place,” said a government official from neighboring Thailand, which has closely monitored Hun Manet’s emergence. “Hun Sen would like to build up his credibility and career because he’s so young.” <>
“The U.S. military also paid for the prime minister’s youngest son, Hun Many, 29, to earn a master’s degree in strategic studies at the National Defense University in Washington last year. The U.S. military arranged for the middle son, Hun Manith, a senior intelligence official, to attend a counterterrorism course in Germany, according to an American diplomatic cable obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. <>
Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014