Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UNTAC officials speak out on election

UNTAC officials speak out on election

UNTAC officials speak out on election

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

officials.

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

said.

"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

to governance:

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

their paper.

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."

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