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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Electoral Law Marks New Stage in Peace Process

Electoral Law Marks New Stage in Peace Process

Cambodia came closer to the reality of democracy based upon political plurality,

a free exchange of political ideas, and a multi-party election in a neutral political

environment on Aug. 12 with the enactment of a legal framework for next year's elections.

The U.N. Law for the Conduct of a Free and Fair Election of a Constituent Assembly

for Cambodia, subjects the peace process to a new dimension of clear legal regulation

and creates distinct and enforceable rights and obligations upon all persons, parties

and organizations involved in this historic endeavor.

Of key significance to the new law is that it now enables Cambodian political parties

to apply for provisional registration, giving Cambodians the simple-but long unfamiliar-right

to participate in political activity throughout the country. In this sense, the electoral

law is a definitive landmark in the process of ending one-party government. But at

the same time the law also obliges all registered parties to tolerate the political

activity of other registered parties. It should mark a further step in the movement

from a conflict of arms to a competition of ideas.

Another important aspect of provisional registration is that political parties will

be required to affirm their commitment to a free and fair election and its results

and adhere to the non-violent and democratic standards set out in the electoral law's

code of conduct.

The mutual toleration and political interaction required by the law is basic to the

electoral process. Equally important however, is the fact that parties are required

to register before the forthcoming voter registration process. There, the UNTAC registration

officials-predominantly Cambodians-will decide upon the applicants for voter registration.

The political parties' participation in the registration process will be vital, as

party agents will be entitled to attend, observe, and comment on the registration

process. This will, with the registration officials, endow the entire process with

a Cambodian quality which is essential to this exercise in self-determination.

All parties registered provisionally will enjoy basic political freedoms. These include

the freedom to move around Cambodia, to inform, and to be informed, and to build

up their peaceful political organization everywhere in the country. This is critical

to creating the neutral political environment called for by the Paris Agreement to

insure a free and fair election. It is most important, in this context, to note that

voter registration is as important a part of the electoral process as any other,

including the final polling.

The entire UNTAC operation in Cambodia is a process. It involves developing democratic

awareness and tolerance, and abandoning the violence which has blighted past decades.

We have now reached a new and critical point in that process.

The obligations and rights set out in the Paris Agreement are reinforced, refined

and supported by the electoral law with sanctions to back it. The most drastic of

these would entitle the Special Representative to exclude an offending person or

party from participating in the process. There is also provision for the imposition

of fines.

One hopes and expects that such negative action will not have to be resorted to.

The entire fabric of the peace process is based upon the mutual desire of the factions

to allow the Cambodian people a free choice, as to both the constitution under which

they will live and the leaders who will govern them under the constitution.

The provisional registration of parties is important because it will mark the further

commitment of the parties to submit to the people's choice and to the electoral law

which will enable that choice-that election-to take place in a free, fair, and neutral

environment.

- Reginald Austin, UNTAC Chief Electoral Officer

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