Thursday, 1 August 2013

CAMBODIA: The Opposition & Election dispute

In Cambodia, the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) claimed victory in the elections held Sunday, but the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party is rejecting the results and calling for an investigation into alleged election irregularities.

The experts said that whether or not the opposition is successful in challenging the results, the election was in some ways a victory for the Cambodian opposition and for Cambodian democracy more broadly. The CPP still has a majority and will still have the dominant voice. But the results will likely mean a more vocal opposition and perhaps lay the basis for change in the future.

As the electoral outcome currently stands, the opposition won about 45 percent of the seats in Cambodia’s national assembly. Though short of an outright victory, the result may for the first time empower the opposition to act as a check against Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for nearly 30 years, and may usher in what amounts to a genuine two-party system in the country.

The results suggest that there may be a generational shift in the works, one that may lead to greater support for the opposition. The question is whether the CPP will undertake changes to make their policies appeal more to this new generation of voters. While such a shift is unlikely in the short term, in the long term, new leadership in the aging CPP could bring change.

Democracy in Cambodia is by no means perfect. But, perhaps, the results may signal that there will be more dialogue and contestation than in the recent past. So far the current political impasse is being dealt with peacefully. This is a much welcome sign for many Cambodians, not only for their own peace of mind but also for the maturation of their political system.

Even Hun Sen showed signs of political maturity by expressing openness to an investigation while many were not initially optimistic that he would compromise on calls for an investigation into the vote count. That gesture on Hun Sen’s part was described by the media as representing an acknowledgement that his opponents’ strong showing in the polls could threaten his grip on power.

Official U.S. support for an investigation likely bolstered the Cambodian National Rescue Party’s demands but if Hun Sen does end up blocking the probe after all, the opposition may need to adjust its approach, in particular its threat to boycott the opening of parliament.

If the opposition perceives that by taking a firm position they could eventually back themselves into a corner, then the opposition may seek compromise rather than lose the opportunity to play a more emboldened role in the national assembly, though in a CPP-led government.

Since the United Nations first backed elections in Cambodia, there have been several Cambodian elections that were contested in this manner. In the past, it led to delays in the formation of a new government, but this should not be an issue since the law was amended so that the party with the majority can form a new government alone.

While only a simple majority is needed to form the government in the national assembly, a larger majority is needed to validate the vote. That gives substantial leverage to the opposition and something it may feel provides greater bargaining power to push for investigations. Even if the final seat count in the assembly doesn’t change, in the short term, the most direct consequence will be a pushing of the democratic process in Cambodia.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst