The electoral process has driven Cambodia’s transformation into a democracy, in a stark departure from the eras of war and genocide that have heavily shaped preconceptions of the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen told international election observers on June 4.

The premier made the remark at a meeting with the observers, who are in Cambodia to monitor the June 5 commune council elections, according to a post on his official Facebook page.

“[Hun Sen] thanked all election monitoring delegations for coming to observe the commune council elections and witness the democratisation of a country that had been well-known for war and genocide, and has become a democratic country through elections,” the post said.

A contingent of 12 delegations – including a team from Centrist Democrat International led by chairman Andres Pastrana and others comprised of Cambodian expatriates in Australia and South Korea – expressed wishes for the vote to go smoothly, safely and without violence, it said.

The premier stressed that the 14-day election campaign season that ended on June 3 went smoothly, without violence or significant verbal attacks.

He commented that the commune elections, general elections first held in 2002, usher in transfers of power among local officials, who in turn vote in non-general elections, such as those for the senate – the next of which is set for 2024.

He also took the occasion to recount his return to Phnom Penh following the early-1979 overthrow of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which he said claimed “more than three million lives”, according to the post.

Hun Sen described the capital at the time as a “desert”, highlighting that he “met only 70 people remaining in the city”. He also contrasted these images with today’s scenic view of high rises and traffic jams.

He noted that while the UN at one point sent peacekeeping troops to Cambodia, the Kingdom now sends men and women to other countries under the umbrella of UN peacekeeping forces, the post added.

Separately, the prime minister on June 4 thanked outgoing commune councillors across the country for fulfilling their jobs through the difficult times of Covid-19, “without political discrimination”.

“These commune councillors, who were elected in 2017, have served and protected the people very well. It was the village and commune officials who made solid preparations for our people to get the vaccine,” Hun Sen said.

During the floods that swept the capital and provinces such as Kampong Speu, Battambang, and Banteay Meanchey, “our commune officials did their best to serve the people in their jurisdictions, even though the lockdowns required them to work harder”, he said, stressing that their actions should be remembered, as well as their devotion to the Covid-19 fight.

He also thanked all political parties for respecting the law and following the National Election Committee’s (NEC) instructions as well as other election-related duties.