Tuesday, 24 September 2013

CAMBODIA: Hun Sen & the stolen election

Almost two months after Cambodia’s national elections, Cambodia's long-time authoritarian leader Hun Sen began another five-year term as prime minister Tuesday, declaring his victory "historic" despite accusations of rigged elections, mass protests and a boycott of parliament by the opposition.

Ruling party lawmakers renamed Hun Sen as prime minister of the Southeast Asian nation in a parliamentary vote that was boycotted by the opposition. Hun Sen, who has ruled virtually unchallenged for nearly three decades, will take the oath of office in front of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace later in the day.

The opposition's 55 elected lawmakers stayed away from parliament's opening session Monday and again Tuesday over allegations the country's disputed July ballot was marred by fraud. The ruling party's 68 lawmakers renamed Hun Sen to his post. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would announce the party's next step on Wednesday but called Hun Sen's re-appointment a "constitutional coup.

Hun Sen has been prime minister for 28 years, since the Vietnamese government appointed him to the post while it occupied the state in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, Cambodia became a United Nations protectorate, and UN peacekeepers staged the nation’s first national elections. Almost 90 percent of the people voted. Hun Sen came in second.

In a show of how desperate he was to hold on to power, Hun Sen rounded up allied governors of seven eastern provinces and threatened to secede from the nation if he were not reinstated as prime minister. The United Nations caved and installed both Hun Sen and the actual winner, Norodom Ranariddh, as co­–prime ministers. That system prevailed until a small civil war in 1997. Hun Sen won and has been the nation’s sole leader since then.

For this most recent election, the two principle opposition parties finally joined forces, and managed to win almost half the vote, according to the National Election Commission. But then the commission, like most every organ of Cambodia’s government, is a simply tool of Hun Sen.

The commission’s final total was: 3.2 million votes for Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party—versus 2.9 million for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. That’s a 300,000-vote difference. And one small bit of cheating alone, among so many, seems to show that the election was stolen: The National Election Commission said it issued as many as 800,000 temporary identification cards, even though those are supposed to be for the few people who might have lost their cards.

That was a new twist for Cambodian election fraud and could conceivably have allowed people to vote twice. It could have changed the outcome all by itself. However, a standard government practice during campaigns is to close the media to opposition candidates while Hun Sen saturates the airwaves. What’s more, the regime bribes, threatens, and intimidates voters nationwide.

Thousands of likely opposition voters found their names removed from the voter roles—and Hun Sen flunkies are believed to have used those names before the actual voters arrived. And of course, capping all of it off, the National Election Commission, with no outside witnesses, counted the votes and came up with its final numbers without accepting any challenge for a recount.

Experts say that a stronger and more vocal opposition could lead Hun Sen to make some changes in the government and small political compromises but it is unlikely to loosen his grip on power. Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have held three rounds of talks this month in an effort to resolve the political deadlock.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Hun Sen