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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Election anger? ‘Let it go’

Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets his supporters after landing in Phnom Penh earlier this month.
Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets his supporters after landing in Phnom Penh earlier this month. REUTERS

Election anger? ‘Let it go’

Let’s get something straight from the start: Cambodia’s election result will stand. Furthermore, as we watch events in Egypt unfold, and as we bear in mind recent unrest in Brazil, Thailand, Turkey and elsewhere, it is clearly the most desirable outcome.

That does not mean the July 28 poll was conducted perfectly, or that there were not multiple transgressions from vote-buying to false registrations, from ballot-box stuffing to crooked counting procedures.

If none of these things occurred in an election in this region, or for that matter in many countries around the world, it would be a minor miracle.

Yes, the scale of infractions and the flagrant, semi-official way they appear to have been condoned, might be more pronounced here than other places.

But even that is doubtful, and certainly the empirical evidence – namely, the high number of seats won by the opposition – suggests it was done on a relatively small scale and in a pathetically inept way.

Many of my colleagues disagree – and that’s fine, that’s democracy, that’s why we can write about it here when we couldn’t next door in Laos or Vietnam.

Some even view the disputed result as heralding portentous changes in the near future. One messaged me last week: “Do you think there will now be an Arab Spring in Cambodia?”

My reply: “There already is one. The opposition won 45 per cent of the seats. Where else does that happen in ASEAN? Not in Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore or Vietnam, and only recently in Malaysia and Indonesia.”

He pressed on: “But do you think the opposition can overthrow Hun Sen and the Cambodia People’s Party?”

“Let’s hope not,” I said. “The opposition performed brilliantly, but it lost. That is quite clear. The CPP would never have allowed it to win 55 seats if the election had been fixed.”

Stating the obvious does not signify approval of the CPP, rather just a belief in electoral politics and a distaste for governments being removed by street thuggery or military coups.

And to repeat: It also does not mean there was no cheating in the election. Of course, there almost certainly was, as there is in elections in all those places voicing disquiet about results.

Remember the flawed recounts in Florida’s Broward and Miami-Dade counties in 2000, which enabled George W Bush to “win” the presidency of the United States, despite losing the popular vote?

Remember what passes for legitimacy in treating oppositionists in Malaysia and Singapore, or what happens in every election in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines?

And please refrain from telling me two wrongs don’t make a right. No, they don’t. For the third time, there clearly seem to have been irregularities in last month’s election. So complain, check them out and get an investigation started.

Which is what has happened. And, as invariably happens in all these investigations, the poll results are upheld.

Yes, the agency assigned to do the investigation is invariably biased.

So bitch again – and let people know about it via the media and public meetings and speeches in parliament.

Then take a deep breath and, in the words of Nelson Mandela, let it go.

As the South African icon told former US president Bill Clinton, he hated the apartheid leaders who jailed him for 27 years and deprived his people of their liberty. And he still hated them when they set him free.

But, said Mandela: “As I felt the anger rising up, I thought to myself: if you keep hating them, they’ll have you again. And so I let it go. I let it go.”

It was a stance that set an example for his entire nation, so that it remained peaceful and harmonious and was able to develop without being convulsed by endless violent protests. The Cambodia National Rescue Party and its leader Sam Rainsy should do the same when the election result is finally and definitively certified.

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savagerob's picture

The readers' comments section is for trolling not the article itself...

garella's picture

Trying to get this straight, as instructed: It's desirable that the results stand, even though there may have been multiple transgressions, maybe more so than in "other places," but these must have been on a small scale, and pathetically ineptly done, because the opposition did quite well, but it lost, so it should complain and "bitch" and get an investigation, which won't be adequate or fair, and then after this biased investigation the opposition should "let it go," for the sake of peace and harmony, just like Mandela says.Wow. Buried in this convoluted, internally contradictory mess are two especially disturbing ideas.The first is the implication that it is possible to know that the CPP did not "fix" the election, because if it had, then CNRP would not be awarded as many as 55 seats.Mitton makes the classic logical error: if the opposition is awarded X in the election, then the election was not fixed. This formulation can be cited when X is any number above zero. If the election had been fixed, then the opposition would have won fewer seats than ... whatever they won.It's similar to the counter-logical argument used by Hun Sen when denying responsibility for killing a certain number of Funcinpec activists in the 90s, which was, to paraphrase: We didn't do it, because if we were killing them then they would all be dead.How very convenient, that from a single piece of data -- and all the way from Bangkok it seems -- Mitton can conclude that whatever cheating there might have been did not change the election's outcome.The point is that election results, on their own, give us no information whatsoever about what the results would be if there was no cheating. They can't serve as evidence for or against cheating, let alone indicate the extent to which cheating changed the outcome. Here Mitton is mistaken about the meaning of the term "empirical." If you want empirical evidence, you need an investigation. Investigation is what produces empirical evidence.Another example. Did the butcher put his finger on the scale? He charged for three pounds and this steak seems a little light ... Well, according to Mitton's logic he must not have, because had he cheated he would have said it was four pounds, or five, or ten, whatever. That reasoning does not work. You have to investigate. See if there's a videotape, or re-weigh the meat -- that kind of thing.Even the CPP, with its control of all the election administration, does not have the ability to cheat with 100% efficiency, at least not without sacrificing any appearance of legitimacy. So they estimate how popular the opposition is, and try to figure out the amount of cheating that will ensure a victory with the least possible damage to that victory's legitimacy. Then they put their finger on the scale.If the CPP cheated -- and Mitton strenuously and repeatedly leaves open that possibility -- then the election results are meaningless until a thorough, unbiased and transparent investigation proves that the cheating did not affect the outcome. Until then, we don't know. Maybe the CPP would have won fair and square. We don't know, and without empirical evidence we can't know.And what is the outcome we are talking about? In this case that is the number of representatives of each party taking seats in the Assembly and which party has the right to attempt to form a government. This year, given the small margin, a relatively small amount of cheating could have changed it, and the future of Cambodia.The burden of proving that such cheating didn't happen is on the election authorities, not on the opposition party. The election authorities are the ones who are holding the evidence and have the ability to reveal it and demonstrate that the process was clean. That is what the opposition party, along with many others, is correctly, reasonably, and peacefully demanding.In a properly run election, that is to say a legitimate election, the possibility of systematic cheating without discovery is eliminated. The mechanisms are transparent, and problems are investigated and resolved in a transparent way by competent and politically neutral bodies, and the resolution process is inevitable and unstoppable.The second disturbing idea is the use of Nelson Mandela to tell the Cambodian opposition to "let it go." We don't know if Mandela really ever said this, but let's say he said it. “As I felt the anger rising up, I thought to myself: if you keep hating them, they’ll have you again. And so I let it go. I let it go.” It's about letting go of anger and hate, not letting go of the struggle for freedom. Mandela's life has been dedicated to constant struggle.Throughout history and all over this world leaders and regular individuals engaged in this struggle have been urged to complain politely but not protest, to slow down, accept, and let it go. This very week, many are remembering the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The other organizers of that march, including Martin Luther King Jr., rejected that advice. Mandela rejected it many times. To submit and to comply -- that's not Mandela's advice, but Mitton's.The vision of Nelson Mandela versus the vision of Roger Mitton. Easy choice.Rich Garella

mikebkk's picture

So Mitton's saying that it doesn't matter that the election was tarnished and that the investigation into irregularities was compromised. Everything's ok according to Mitton because at least its better than in Vietnam and Singapore where the opposition isn't allowed to do so well. If Mitton looked at Cambodia's history he would know that Hun Sen doesn't accept election results that go against him as was shown in the very first free election held under the UN auspices which he lost. As with Mitton's piece on Abhisit in Thailand his writing smacks of advertorial not editorial.

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