There was a relatively widespread consensus that the country
has slid backwards democratically for the past ten years. It
has come under a unified control of the ruling party (CPP).
Cambodia is now a de facto one-party system that can be
credited to the older generation of party leaders having
grown up with a Communist/Maoist mindset. The party’s
control over all branches of government and democratic
institutions has an obvious and undeniably harmful effect on
the country’s elections.
Among the most compromised institutions, the judicial system
has been almost completely undermined and exists primarily
as a venue where political connections or financial
resources are the sole determinants of the courts’
decisions. The courts have been used as a weapon of
repression against opposition party leaders, independent
voices in the media, amongst many others. Consequently,
election stakeholders have no confidence or expectation that
the courts can play their proper role in electoral dispute
The National Election Committee (NEC)
The NEC has long been a highly politicized body. It is far
from exhibiting the independence, impartiality and
neutrality expected of an election body. Recommendations by
domestic as well as international observers on the
recruitment, selection and appointment of NEC Commissioners
after each electoral exercise since1998 have been ignored by
the legislature and calls for greater autonomy and
professionalism from the NEC have similarly fallen on deaf
Basic Issues Raised
Problems with the voters’ list were the most discussed,
studied, and criticized aspect of the NEC’s preparation. The
inaccuracies of the voters’ list created a number of harmful
effects, namely, direct disenfranchisement of voters who
registered but their names were not in the list; the
opportunity for fraud given the incorrect and duplicate
names that were found in the list; serious harm on the
public’s confidence on the legitimacy of the election.
The NEC printed over 2.6 million or 27% excess ballots, a
number far exceeding accepted norms and standards in
established democracies. No actual justification was given
except that the NEC “print ballots in books of 50s and to
provide adequate excess ballots to every polling station”.
Given that the NEC officials are not trusted and the voters’
list have excess names, the high number of extra ballots,
contributed to an erosion of public trust in the election.
The NEC introduced a notorious invention called
“Identification Card for the Election” (ICE). ICEs were
issued by the commune leaders to voters with no
identification cards to enable them to vote. The issuance of
so many ICE cards created a fear of significant fraud since
the commune leaders who issued them were mostly partisans of
the ruling party.
This election saw the issue of ethnic Vietnamese voters,
citizens and non-citizens, become a highly controversial
topic. Accusations ran rampant that on election day, groups
of Vietnamese were bussed in to vote for the ruling party.
The media in Cambodia tilts heavily towards the ruling
party. All the television stations are government owned, the
vast majority of radio stations are government owned and the
leading Khmer language daily is owned by one sympathetic to
the ruling party. A revealing example of media bias was the
coverage surrounding opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s return
to the country from exile. It was an event wherein thousands
of people took to the streets but there was no coverage on
TV or in the newspapers.
Most journalists work in an environment of explicit
censorship. The Ministry of Information’s regulations remain
a constant threat of being sued and tried in a biased court
Local analysts shared the opinion, before and after the
election, that change is forthcoming. The election results
where the ruling party lost 22 seats, reinforces the same
message. There are a number of social and economic factors
that will hasten change.
1. The growing inequality in the distribution of wealth has
become more pronounced under the ruling party. It is said
that more than half of the population live on less than two
dollars a day.
2. The increasing militancy of the youth as expressed in the
last election would be a wake-up call to the ruling party
that their clamour for change can no longer be ignored.
3. The injustices perpetrated by the ruling elite and
condoned by the courts cannot last forever. The issue of
land grabs is perhaps the most glaring example though there
are many others like the adjudication and resolution of
4. The issue of ethnic Vietnamese (now Cambodian citizens)
as well as the Vietnamese migrant workers whom the
Cambodians see as taking away jobs and business
opportunities from them, is a very sensitive one that feeds
on the emotions of the ethnic Khmers particularly amongst
the youth. The general public perceive the government as
tolerating their presence and even favouring them.