THE Cambodian People's Party has been deliberately, and often violently, undermining
the democratic process begun in 1993 by UNTAC, according to two of UNTAC's most senior
UNTAC Force Commander Lieutenant-General John Sanderson and Senior Deputy Chief Electoral
Officer Michael Maley told an Australian Foreign Affairs sub-committee hearing in
Canberra Aug 24 that July's elections "were not free and fair".
Sanderson and Maley's presentation is the first time senior UNTAC officers have publicly
argued how, according to them, the CPP has tainted UNTAC's legacy through to 1998.
The pair warned their government that a country's foreign policy was often based
on the assumption that local "strongmen" were institutions in their own
right. "They are not, and that is why, when a strong man falls, he tends to
take other countries' foreign policies down with him," they said.
Sanderson and Maley said that Australia's long-term policy toward Cambodia must start
by recognizing that the 1998 elections were "simply an element of the theater
by which despots seek to justify their continuation in power".
The deficiencies of the recent elections "were in no sense unavoidable or attributable
to the difficulties of conducting elections in [a] developing country", they
"Rather [they] flowed from conscious political acts by the ruling clique, reflecting
a lack of genuine commitment to the process and to the rights of individual Cambodians."
Sanderson and Maley argued that Cambodia's struggle was between two different approaches
ï that of a liberal democracy in a society committed to the rule of law - a "fundamental
element" of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, enshrined in the Constitution and
supported by local people;
ï and that of an "authoritarian government with no genuine commitment to either
liberal democracy or the rule of law, but with lip-service paid to both - [something]
long adopted by the current ruling clique in Phnom Penh".
They said that while Cambodia's politicians made "at least an ostensible commitment
to the [basic rights and democracy]" described in the Paris Accords, "much
more important was the way in which they were taken to heart by the Cambodian people".
The CPP, they said, were swift in cracking down on local people's "unambiguous"
support for these rights from the very beginning. The party had been doing it since,
according to a litany of "repressions" quoted by Sanderson and Maley in
Following the CPP's poor showing in the 1993 polls, Prince Norodom Chakrapong and
CPP Interior Minister Sin Song ceded seven eastern provinces, which Sanderson and
Maley quote historian William Shawcross as saying had a "serious purpose".
The CPP "unleashed its 'A-group' of 'reaction force thugs'... who threatened,
beat and [murdered opposition workers]... The CPP clearly used the episode to blackmail
both Funcinpec and UNTAC in an attempt to reverse the election results," according
to Shawcross' Cambodia's New Deal.
"We regard this event as... of fundamental importance," Sanderson and Maley
said. "The hierarchy of the CPP [sent] a powerful signal that... while use might
be made of parliamentary maneuvers, power would still come from the barrel of a gun."
The pair said they referred in this instance to the involvement of the CPP's hierarchy,
rather than Hun Sen personally. The secession was related to factional differences
within the party, and precise roles by various actors, including King Norodom Sihanouk,
were difficult to evaluate, they said.
The secession followed a "long line of episodes" which undermined the Paris
Accords and which were directly linked with Hun Sen or to the ruling clique within
the CPP which he increasingly dominated, they said. These included:
ï CPP elements assaulting Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan "which did much to
undermine such commitment to the Paris Agreement as existed in the KR ranks";
ï intimidation and coercion of opposition politicians and supporters, documented
by UNTAC and perpetrated by "those with the power... [who could not bridge]
the gap between political rhetoric and social reality...;"
ï the ousting of Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Sirivudh in 1995, UNTAC officials
speak out on electionand the grenade attack on Son Sann that same year;
ï and the grenade attack on a Rainsy demonstration in March 1997.
The events, the two UNTAC officials said, highlighted not only a lack of commitment
to good governance, liberal democracy and rule of law "but [the CPP's] desire
to work against those objectives".
The incidents were not simply intended to remind the opposition of where power resided,
they said, but also to those within the CPP who were inclined to keep faith with
the Peace Accords and the Constitution.
The most significant act - the July 1997 coup - enabled the CPP to "exact a
terrible cost on its opposition for their desperate attempt to balance the armed
force equation...," they said.
Sanderson and Maley argued that the term "free and fair" - in relation
to the July election - "could be assessed with a greater degree of precision
and objectivity than [euphemisms such as] 'broadly representative' or 'broadly representing
the will of the people'".
Those with power don't have to coerce or intimidate every citizen, they said. They
merely have to influence enough voters to affect the result.
They said that the CPP had "created a pervasive atmosphere of fear in Cambodia"
over the past year. By July voters understood that "a victory by any party other
than the CPP would lead the CPP to the sort of violent response which it had initiated
in the secession of 1993".
International observers missed a "critical point" by saying that large
numbers of people did not feel intimidated or coerced, they said. The point was,
many did feel so threatened.
All people - and not just the brave but even the timorous - must be given the chance
to vote without fear, they said.
Sanderson and Maley also argued in their paper that the CPP dominated all election
commissions, the judiciary and access to the media during the polls.
"It is entirely appropriate to make allowances for the unavoidable difficulties
faced by developing countries, such a poor infrastructure, a limited skill base,
or random events such as bad weather.
"The deficiencies of the 1998 election which we have identified, however, were
not of that character. They were rather a direct result of conscious political decisions,
taken by members of the ruling clique for their own benefit, in full knowledge of
what they were doing.
"The actions in question defied the spirit of the country's Constitution, and
it would be wrong to treat them... as if they are somehow an inevitable feature of
life in the third world."