Cambodia’s Parliamentary Election 29 July 2018


Update: According to CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, political parties had no authority to announce the number of seats they believed they had won, but according to the NEC’s unofficial calculations, the ruling party had won comfortably and no other party could win a single seat. (The Phnom Penh Post, 1.8.18)

Partyforumseasia: The first unofficial results of yesterday’s election are out, showing the expected overwhelming victory of the CPP and a voter turnout of over 80 %. Here is a preliminary table, courtesy of Mear Nup at Phnom Penh. Out of the 125 Parliamentary seats, 114 would go to the CPP, six to FUNCINPEC, and five to the League for Democracy Party.

It is futile to speculate whether the CNRP opposition and its leader Sam Rainsy would have won this election had the party not been dissolved in November 2017, officially by the Supreme Court, but de facto, of course, following the steely will and resolve of Hun Sen. The longer a politician is in power, the more difficult it is to give up. Hun Sen is the world’s longest serving Prime Minister with 33 years in office. The former Khmer Rouge officer joined the Vietnamese who ended Cambodia’s horror years with an invasion in 1979, and, in 1985, at the age of 33, was appointed Prime Minister. After the 1993 UN-sponsored election which was won by FUNCINPEC under Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun Sen was Second Prime Minister, but toppled the Prince in 1997 and regained the premiership. His grip on absolute power reflects the violent history of the country since the Vietnam War, including several instances where the “West” can be accused of letting down Cambodia. Maybe the most damaging one was the continuing recognition of the Khmer Rouge, in exile in Thailand, by the UN until 1993, a stance against the occupying Vietnamese who rather felt that they had liberated the neighbour from the genocidal Khmer Rouge. And the UNTAC-supported election, a huge international effort, failed to disarm the remaining Khmer Rouge and was never seen as positive by the Cambodians as by the international helpers and media.

The facts are as they are, Hun Sen and the CPP are confirmed in power by an election widely criticized as undemocratic and far from free and fair. Giving a special training and deploying thousands of military police “to prevent unexpected demonstrations and strikes” tells about the government’s precautions.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was the main opposition until its ban last year. It could neither participate nor organize a boycott and mass abstentions it advocated for, if the 82% voter turnout is realistic. Its leader Sam Rainsy lives in self-exile in France to avoid imprisonment for several dubious accusations, and his deputy, Kem Sokha, is in prison, accused of treason and plotting together with the United States to topple the Hun Sen government. Could all that have been avoided or did the two leaders overestimate their cards and underestimate the resolve of Hun Sen? The CNRP vote share of 44.5% in the 2013 election was certainly ringing the alarm bells for Hun Sen, but also boosted the self-confidence of the CNRP that defeating the CPP would be in reach. The excellent international contacts of both leaders and their image as the alternative and more democratic  leadership of Cambodia, on the other hand, may have opened a flank domestically and triggered the rather absurd treason accusations.