Election anger? ‘Let it go’

Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets his supporters after landing in Phnom Penh earlier this month.
Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets his supporters after landing in Phnom Penh earlier this month. REUTERS

Election anger? ‘Let it go’

Let’s get something straight from the start: Cambodia’s election result will stand. Furthermore, as we watch events in Egypt unfold, and as we bear in mind recent unrest in Brazil, Thailand, Turkey and elsewhere, it is clearly the most desirable outcome.

That does not mean the July 28 poll was conducted perfectly, or that there were not multiple transgressions from vote-buying to false registrations, from ballot-box stuffing to crooked counting procedures.

If none of these things occurred in an election in this region, or for that matter in many countries around the world, it would be a minor miracle.

Yes, the scale of infractions and the flagrant, semi-official way they appear to have been condoned, might be more pronounced here than other places.

But even that is doubtful, and certainly the empirical evidence – namely, the high number of seats won by the opposition – suggests it was done on a relatively small scale and in a pathetically inept way.

Many of my colleagues disagree – and that’s fine, that’s democracy, that’s why we can write about it here when we couldn’t next door in Laos or Vietnam.

Some even view the disputed result as heralding portentous changes in the near future. One messaged me last week: “Do you think there will now be an Arab Spring in Cambodia?”

My reply: “There already is one. The opposition won 45 per cent of the seats. Where else does that happen in ASEAN? Not in Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore or Vietnam, and only recently in Malaysia and Indonesia.”

He pressed on: “But do you think the opposition can overthrow Hun Sen and the Cambodia People’s Party?”

“Let’s hope not,” I said. “The opposition performed brilliantly, but it lost. That is quite clear. The CPP would never have allowed it to win 55 seats if the election had been fixed.”

Stating the obvious does not signify approval of the CPP, rather just a belief in electoral politics and a distaste for governments being removed by street thuggery or military coups.

And to repeat: It also does not mean there was no cheating in the election. Of course, there almost certainly was, as there is in elections in all those places voicing disquiet about results.

Remember the flawed recounts in Florida’s Broward and Miami-Dade counties in 2000, which enabled George W Bush to “win” the presidency of the United States, despite losing the popular vote?

Remember what passes for legitimacy in treating oppositionists in Malaysia and Singapore, or what happens in every election in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines?

And please refrain from telling me two wrongs don’t make a right. No, they don’t. For the third time, there clearly seem to have been irregularities in last month’s election. So complain, check them out and get an investigation started.

Which is what has happened. And, as invariably happens in all these investigations, the poll results are upheld.

Yes, the agency assigned to do the investigation is invariably biased.

So bitch again – and let people know about it via the media and public meetings and speeches in parliament.

Then take a deep breath and, in the words of Nelson Mandela, let it go.

As the South African icon told former US president Bill Clinton, he hated the apartheid leaders who jailed him for 27 years and deprived his people of their liberty. And he still hated them when they set him free.

But, said Mandela: “As I felt the anger rising up, I thought to myself: if you keep hating them, they’ll have you again. And so I let it go. I let it go.”

It was a stance that set an example for his entire nation, so that it remained peaceful and harmonious and was able to develop without being convulsed by endless violent protests. The Cambodia National Rescue Party and its leader Sam Rainsy should do the same when the election result is finally and definitively certified.

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