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Cambodia maintains distance on Myanmar poll

Photo by: AFP
Pro-democracy activists burn the new Myanmar flag during a protest in New Delhi on Wednesday. Myanmar will hold its elections on November 7, which critics have described as a sham to cement military rule.

The Cambodian government has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the upcoming elections in Myanmar, amid mounting criticism of a process many observers see as a charade to legitimise military rule.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the government hoped the elections, scheduled for Sunday, would be carried out in a “democratic and transparent” manner.

“We don’t know about the other reactions, the comments from other countries, but the Cambodian government hopes that the elections will be democratic,” he said.

Critics have dismissed the vote as a sham process designed to entrench military rule, and say it cannot be credible while it excludes opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.

According to electoral rules passed in March, a quarter of the seats in the country’s proposed parliament will be reserved for hand-picked military candidates, while opposition parties toil under a wide range of restrictions, including bans on ex-political prisoners running as candidates.

Koy Kuong said he could not comment on the plight of Suu Kyi, adding that the issue was Myanmar’s “internal affair”.

Cambodia’s hands-off attitude reflects that of ASEAN’s member states, most of whom have been reluctant to criticise the junta over its preparations for the poll.

Only the Philippines has come out in open opposition to the process, describing it at the 17th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi last month as a “farce to democratic values of transparency”.

Opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said despite ASEAN’s much-mooted policy of mutual non-interference, ASEAN nations should take a firm stance against polls she said had been gutted by the “elimination” of the political opposition in Myanmar.

“If Cambodia wants to be recognised as a democratic country, we must ask the government of Cambodia to point out the shortfalls of the preparations for the elections in Myanmar,” she said.

Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert based at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the election was engineered to create “a fig leaf of international legitimacy” for a regime that has been a perennial irritation for ASEAN.
“For many years now ASEAN has become impatient with Burma,” he said, referring to the country by its former name. “A mask of democracy could allow them some wriggle room to at least get Burma off the table.”
While the electoral process was likely to be a “farce”, Turnell said, it might also be an opportunity that some Asian countries may use to expand business and trade with the pariah regime.
In a statement last month, Amnesty International said the credibility of ASEAN as a whole would be at stake during the Myanmar elections.
“Failure to address both past and present [rights] violations may prove critical for the future realisation of peoples’ rights in Myanmar and the international credibility of its neighbours,” the letter stated.

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