In the first of a series, Rajesh Kumar looks at the potential impact that
widely-predicted election-related violence and intim-idation might have on voter
behavior in the run-up to the Feb 3, 2002 commune elections, when the CPP's two-decade
monopoly control of the political grassroots in the Kingdom's 1606 comm-unes will
be challenged for the first time.
Amidst widespread concerns about the potential for foul play in the conduct of
upcoming commune elections, election monitoring organizations and civil society groups
remain confident that attempts at coercion, violence and intimidation will backfire
on the political parties responsible.
Ballots are counted in the King-dom's 1998 elections.
The Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID) cites the examples of previous elections when,
despite brazen acts of intimidation, threats and violence by the supporters of the
CPP, Funcinpec, BLDP, and/or Sam Rainsy Party still bagged substantial vote tallies.
"If we can ensure security and law and order, the turnout will definitely be
high and people will vote their mind," KID Executive Director Dr Lao Mong Hay
Mong Hay cites the example of Kraing Yov commune in Kandal province as a measure
of the maturity of Cambodian electorate, at least in areas with relatively high level
of political awareness.
According to Mong Hay, the commune suddenly reaped a bumper crop of development investment
from Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of the 1998 election, including the revival of
the old irrigation systems and the renovation of schools, pagodas, and health centers.
In spite of such vote-attracting tactics, the CPP candidate was routed in favor of
a Funcinpec member, cutting short Hun Sen's brief electoral courtship.
"It's been Cambodia's election tradition that when ever we have highly competitive
elections, the turnout is high and the voters surprise even best of analysts,"
Mong Hay said, adding that in the country's first elections during the French Protectorate
era on September 1, 1946, the voters surprised their colonial rulers by registering
a 60 per cent turnout.
Scott Leiper, programme manager at the UNDP-funded capacity building project for
local governance (CARERE)), concurred that threats of coercion and violence did not
allow for pre-judging of results.
"The Cambodian electorate is much more intelligent than it is given credit for,"
However even the UN has weighed in with misgivings about the coming commune elections,
expressing "...deep concern at the prospect of political intimidation and politically
motivated violence against those trying to participate in elections."
Those concerns have been echoed by election monitoring groups who threatened to boycott
the elections saying laws governing the polls made it difficult for them to independently
observe the process.
Human rights organizations also have misgivings about possible election-related violence,
with Human Rights Watch listing "...numerous instances of violence" against
opposition commune candidates including the murder of two Sam Rainsy Party candidates
and a Funcinpec candidate and his wife.
Political observers say that the CPP has learnt hard lessons from the 1993 and 1998
national elections, when violence, intimidation and coercion failed to translate
into electoral gains in Battambang, Kampong Cham and Kandal.
As a result, the CPP is reportedly planning to remove "troublesome" elements
from the ranks of commune chiefs by entering into a quiet electoral understanding
with coalition partner Funcinpec.
"Where the party is not happy with the work of its rank and file but has not
replaced the commune chiefs to avoid large scale resentment, it will just leave the
field open for the Funcinpec candidates by undertaking a lackluster campaign,"
a political observer said.
Rather than pulling out all the stops to try to snatch victory from defeat observers
say the CPP is feeling intimidated by the growing influence and popularity of Funcinpec
and SRP candidates and was planning to share the election spoils with Funcinpec rather
than lose completely.
Commune poll calendar
THE National Election Committee (NEC) has begun to appoint its electoral staff
in the run-up to the February 3, 2002 commune council elections.
This is to be followed by the appointment of members for its provincial counterparts,
or PECs, on May 8 and other electoral staff for PECs on May 26.
Before the voter registration and updating of electoral rolls begins on July 4, which
will continue until July 31, the NEC will distribute a list of registration stations
on June 24.
This draft calendar of events has been prepared by the NEC secretariat.-
- Posting of preliminary voter list: August 30, 2001.
- Registration ends: Sept 21, 2001.
- Candidate registration: Begins Sept 24, ends Nov 11.
- Electoral campaign begins: Jan 18, 2002.
- Campaigning ends: Feb 1.
- Polling Day: Feb 3.
- Preliminary result at the counting Centre: Feb 4-6.
- Appeal to the PEC: Feb 7-9.
- PEC decision: Feb 10-14.
- PEC posts preliminary results and seat allocation: Feb 8-12.
- Appeal to NEC: Feb 14-18.
- Official results: Feb18-21.