Another Stolen Election in Cambodia

Almost two months after Cambodia’s national elections, the nation is still roiling with unrest because the reigning regime quite obviously stole the elections once again.

After weeks of violence, including one death at the hands of the police this month, in mid-September 200 monks marched toward the figurehead-king’s palace—until police stopped them at a roadblock. Unlike angry civilian protesters who have paraded through the streets in recent weeks, the monks chanted and threw lotus petals in the air. This accomplished little, and upcoming protests are unlikely to be so peaceful.

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. (I’ve watched this in person.)

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.

Looking at all of this, opposition leaders have been calling for an independent outside investigation. Having spent many months in Cambodia in recent years, writing a book about the modern-day state, it’s my view that the odds Hun Sen will accede to that request for an independent investigation are virtually nil. 

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