As Cambodia is about to head into its third election in a decade, the great election
fear and the associated fallouts of the past are still vividly strong in people's
minds. People, ironically, still fear this democratic process inside and outside
of Cambodia alike.
I was in Cambodia as a volunteer development specialist during the first election
in 1993, which was organized by UNTAC. I can still remember the great fear that engulfed
the people's psyche. Many-those who were able-left the country for fear of violence,
and rightly so.
But there were the majority who were unable to escape and had to endure it as best
as they possibly could. I, too, chose to stay for my own and local staff's benefit,
while many others left the country. It was a difficult time as violence erupted and
people were murdered. Most likely, those who were killed were victims of politically
motivated killings. Yet it was difficult to prove or avoid. So people senselessly
At that time, I remember telling our quite nervous local staff repeatedly that, "If
you are not a politician or a political activist, there is no need to fear this democracy
process. Go out and exercise your constitutional right. Vote!" Most of the eligible
voters, up to 95 percent, voted, which was a record, despite the great election fears.
The second election in 1998 came and went with similar results. People still showed
great fear of the election period. Election-related violence and intimidation episodes,
which occurred on a regular basis, continued to grow. More serious violence followed
soon after the election result was announced.
And now Cambodia is into its third election in a decade and nothing has really changed
since the first two elections. Politically related violence and intimidation episodes
are also growing in the lead-up to this election. Those who could do so have already
left the country, while others refuse to visit Cambodia "until the election
is over with".
It's sad to see that a democratic process, backed by the nation's Constitution and
the people's will, has become simply an "exercise of formality". After
more than ten years, including two previous elections, who would have figured that
a lesson of the past has still not been learned and the same mistakes continue to
be repeated? Who can or should the people blame?
- Ronnie Yimsut - Oregon, USA