Sunday, September 15, 2013

The 2013 Election in Cambodia

Election 2013 Pictures

The 2013 Election in Cambodia: The Battle between the ruling party CPP (Cambodia People Party) and the opposition party CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party, a Cambodian electoral alliance between Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party founded on 17 July 2012 )
Chronological Event Leading to the announcement of the Final Result by the National Election Committee of Cambodia

On 28th July 2013, I went to vote to fulfill my duty as a citizen of Cambodia.  In my designated Koh Kel commune, the result was very clear CNRP won handsomely over CPP.  In my voting room number 1267, CNRP received 351 votes, while CPP had only 51 votes and other six parties (Funcinpec, League for Democracy Party, Cambodian Nationality Party, Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, Khmer Economic Development Party, and Democratic Republican Party) got a combined of 9 votes. This is my personal recollection of a chronological event leading to the release of the final result announced by NEC on 8th September 2013.  To compile this examination, I used my personal observation and many outside sources namely the local newspapers (The Cambodia Daily, Phnom Penh Post,...) and other national and international articles.

Introduction: After the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge regime, and the signing 1991 Paris Agreements, the first election in Cambodia was held in May 1993 and drew a big turnout of just under 90%. The official result of the 1993 election was the opposition royalist Funcinpec party won 58 seats, the opposition Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) 10 seats, and the opposition Molinaka party 1 seat and The CPP won 51 seats.  The CPP was shocked as they lost to Funcinpec.  Hun Sen and his party strongly rejected the result and protested irregularities to UNTAC.   They also threatened secession of the eastern provinces.  King Sihanouk intervened by appointing Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen as the world first co-prime ministers on 24 September 1993.   The CPP controlled the armed forces, police, courts and National Assembly leaving the winning party Funcinpec only in name.  In the July 1998 election, the official results gave the CPP 64 seats, Funcinpec 43 seats, the new Sam Rainsy Party 15, giving the CPP a slim 64-58 majority in parliament.  The opposition staged massive, peaceful demonstrations and a large protest. Hun Sen send security forces into Democracy Park in Phnom Penh to violently disperse protesters.  With the pressure from the US, Prince Ranariddh in November 1998 again had to make a deal to form a new coalition government, this time with Funcinpec as a junior partner. In government, Funcinpec had no effective power, as all decisions were taken by Hun Sen and the CPP. Prince Ranariddh was made president of the National Assembly, and both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party were given places on parliamentary committees and remained in opposition.  But neither Prince Ranariddh nor opposition members of parliament (MPs) had any power to overcome CPP objections and move legislation through parliament or to hold the executive branch accountable.  The 2003 election yielded the CPP 73 seats, Funcinpec 26 seats and the Sam Rainsy Party 24 seats. The opposition refused to vote in a new government, as the two/thirds rule applied, until the CPP agreed to a broad package of fundamental reforms to make Cambodia’s political and electoral system more democratic.  It held out once again for 11 months before Funcinpec gave in and agreed to a 60-40 division of ministerial positions and a much more limited reform agenda. In the 2008 elections, the CPP, which had total control of National Election Committee, state media and state coffers, won 90 seats, while the SRP won 26 seats, Human Rights Party 3 seats, Funcinpec 2 seats, and Norodom Ranarridh 2 seats. Hun Sen and the CPP were able to quickly form a government in 2008, this time without opposition participation after the CPP super-majority in the National Assembly had amended the constitution to require only a simple majority vote of members of parliament to form a government in 2006.   The EU officially observed the election and concluded that it did not meet international standards.  From 2008-2013, in the National Assembly the CPP booted opposition members off committees and limited their ability to raise issues or engage in debates.  The question remains: Will the 28th July 2013 elections be any different?  Will this election be free and just? Will the CPP still dominate the Cambodian politics? Do the Cambodian people want change or status quo? Here are the chronological events of the 2013 election leading to the final result:

28th July 2013: around 5:30pm, Sam Rainsy from the opposition party CNRP announced that his party won the election.  He later retracted the result due to unknown reasons.  Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information, announced preliminary results at around 7:30pm in Facebook claiming the CPP won 68 (3.2 million votes) and CNRP 55 (2.9 million votes).  Voters turnout this year is 68.49% (6,627,159 valid votes out of 9,675,453 registered votes).  The preliminary result of this election showed that a good number of the Cambodian people are extremely frustrated and dissatisfied with the ruling party and the existing order.  They believe that the society is so corrupted and needs a fundamental change. The ruling party CPP cannot force views on its members and the general population and needs a major reform.
29th July 2013: Sam Rainsy claimed massive electoral fraud, rejected the results of Sunday’s election and called for an independent investigation consisting of members of opposition and CPP as well the U.N., representatives of foreign governments and NGOs.  He told local and international journalists and the audience at CNRP head office, “In one word, we don’t accept the election results.”  Transparency International and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) have both reported observing widespread voting irregularities on Sunday.
30th July 2013: the ruling party CPP and the opposition CNRP have each claimed victory.  CPP said they won 68, while CNRP claimed they won a minimum of 63.  NEC will issue official preliminary result on 12 August 2013. 
31st July 2013: after spending several days in seclusion in his first public appearance, Prime Minister Hun Sen said his ruling party will participate in an investigation into alleged fraud and irregularities during Sunday’s election with a conciliatory tone.  He also spoke of a separate committee to negotiate with the opposition on the make up of a new National Assembly comprised of Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Acting Senate President Say Chhum, and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.  The US state department called for a “credible” investigation into allegations and irregularities.  On the other front, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged all countries not to back the opposition party CNRP in response to the US State Department ‘s, EU, and Japan call for an investigation into election’s day alleged fraud and irregularities.  China and Hungary are the only two countries to expressly endorse the elections as free, fair, and transparent.
1st August 2013: NEC rejected joint party vote investigation into alleged frauds and irregularities.  CNRP seeks to conduct an investigation outside NEC and called for an independent investigation in to the election. 
2nd August 2013: Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that if opposition CNRP newly elected members fail to take their seat in Parliament before the end of 60-day deadline for the formation of a new government, those seats would be given to the CPP based on NEC regulations.  His interpretation of the constitution has been widely challenged.
3rd August 2013: The UN released a statement stating that Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the peaceful conduct of the election but supported an investigation into alleged irregularities.  Philip Sen, a spokesman for the UN’s mission in Cambodia said that the UN had yet to receive a request from either party to participate as a member or observer in any investigation into election irregularities.  NEC hosted a representative from CPP and CNRP to discuss the creation of a committee to investigate irregularities.
9th August 2013: representative from the CPP and CNRP met to discuss the formation of the joint committee and failed to come to an agreement over what the group would lead the investigation.  CPP wanted a joint committee that included NEC, while CRNP proposed an observer from the United Nations and the presence of International NGOs.  Neither party came to the table in a spirit of compromise, only with demands for other party to yield.  The army moved at least six canon-mounted armored personnel carriers into the city to control the political tension.
12 August 2013: in the midst of talk between CPP and CNRP, NEC announced official preliminary election results that supported Information Minister Khieu Kanharith’s claim of CPP victory (CPP: 68, CNRP: 55).  CNRP was still committed to finding a political resolution.
20 August 2013: representative from the CPP and CNRP met again to discuss the formation of the joint committee and failed again to come to an agreement over what the group would lead the investigation.  CPP objected to any foreign involvement, while CRNP didn’t want NEC to be part of the investigation committee.  So far, only a handful of countries have endorsed the preliminary results of the election results released by the NEC. Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, China, Hungary, and Belarus are the only countries to have officially recognized the CPP’s victory.  US and Australian diplomats in Phnom-Penh renewed their request for an investigation to election irregularities.
21 August 2013: Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi congratulated the victory of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
25th August 2013: more than 20000 people attended CNRP rally at Freedom Park to listen to party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha to report election related developments to the voters, and to listen to their thoughts about the next course of actions as well.  I was at the rally.  I attended 3 other rallies two in Kandal province and the other in Kien Say district.  The opposition party still holds firm on their demand for justice by launching an unbiased investigation into the contentious election results.
28th August 2013: CNRP announced that it will hold a mass demonstration on 7th September 2013 against the preliminary result one day before final results are expected to be released by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia.  The government sent a letter to foreign embassies and local and international NGOs to warn them about a coup by the opposition party to illegally overthrow the elected CPP-led government.  By employing troops throughout the capital city and tanks, CPP has used  threat as a legitimate political strategy to scare the population and the street protestors.
1st and 4th September 2013: CRNP rehearsed non-violent and peaceful protest for 7th September 2013 showdown, while CPP gave a special training to 2000 anti riot police on how to handle mass demonstration.  CNRP switched from calls for protest to calls for peace and prayer.
6th September 2013: The Situation Room, a conglomerate of 21 NGOs and election monitors established to oversee the July 28 poll, found serious problems preceding and during the election. More than 10,000 cases of voting irregularities were found across the nation but were especially alarmed by reports from Kandal province, where Prime Minister Hun Sen was the CPP’s No. 1 candidate for a seat in the National Assembly.  “The entire election process was neither free and fair.  The election results do not fully reflect the will of the voters,” stated the joint statement.  The Constitutional Council rejected all the complaints related to the irregularities during the 28 July national election.  The National Election Committee and the Constitutional Council of Cambodia are not considered neutral.   Both have strong ties to the ruling CPP.
7th September 2013: more than 40000 people  (based on my observation) attended the massive demonstration at Freedom Park to contest the election’s result tarnished with voting irregularities and frauds.  The opposition party used this event as a direct democracy to make calls for change – the urgent need to remove the CPP from power.  “Our forest is destroyed and other natural resources are destroyed.  We should come together in solidarity to help our mother (country),” said Sam Rainsy to the crowd.  There were ten of thousands security personnel deployed and riot police officers in and around Phnom-Penh to maintain order and treat people from coming.
8th September 2013: the National Election Committee released the final and official 2013 election result, which confirmed a win by the ruling party awarded CPP with parliamentary 68 and 55 to CNRP.  From the government view, this announcement shut the door for the talk of an impartial investigation into the election’ irregularities.   But CNRP rejected the fabricated outcome and will continue to protest to demand an independent investigation of the 28 July vote.

Final Reflection:  The '8 September 2013' date was a sad day for democracy and the people of Cambodia to hear and bear this unjust result.  The election result definitely didn't reflect the will of the voters based on my observation and the majority of the people.  I foresee many daunting challenges ahead for both parties, especially the ruling party.  CPP needs to change their style of governing to run the country.  Most of the people of Cambodia don't trust them anymore.  Good cannot come from force.    On the other hand, CNRP will have to fight harder and smarter to get what the people want and demand - free and fair election, justice, rule of law, quality education, jobs, livable wages, equal treatment and opportunity,...  With the strong support of the mass, CNRP has to be creative to play the right card by engaging everybody in the fight for justice and truth that include  the people from the ruling party.   CNRP must bring not just hope but also faith to the mass.  The question now is how the international community reacts to this official announcement especially the US, EU, Australia, and Japan.  History has taught us that only the mass can overthrow a totalitarian regime. We will see in the next massive demonstrations how much the leaders of the opposition party leaders and our people are willing to sacrifice for this change.  I have noticed that a good number of the nation’s youth rejected the values of their parents (status quo).  They want fundamental change.  They want social justice, good education, jobs, living wage, rule of law, and equal opportunity and equality.  In general, most of the poor and vulnerable people in Cambodia are very frustrated and extremely dissatisfied with the existing order.  They propose to change the present system because they believe that the society is so corrupt and only CNRP can help them defeat and end this status quo.