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  • Cambodia:The Cambodian People's Party Consolidates Power
  • Carlyle A. Thayer (bio)

This chapter reviews major domestic and foreign policy developments in Cambodia in 2008. Three major issues are highlighted: the fourth national elections, the border dispute with Thailand, and the proceedings of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The chapter concludes with a brief overview of economic trends and a review of Cambodia's external relations.

National Elections

Cambodia held national elections on 27 July; they were the fourth general elections to be held since the end of the Cambodian conflict in 1991. In 2007, the National Electoral Committee (NEC) revised its national voter list and removed 586,160 names due to death, duplication and other reasons. The list of deregistered voters was displayed publicly for thirty-five days and citizens were given the right to contest their deletion. According to a U.S. Embassy assessment, "virtually all who took steps to protest the deletion of their names were re-instated".1 Nonetheless, an audit by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) found that as many as 57,401 voters (or 0.7 per cent of the total) were deleted. This figure was challenged by the NEC and reduced to 49,340 voters (or 0.6 per cent of the total) who "may [have been]… improperly and unintentionally" disenfranchised.2 The U.S Embassy noted that the deletion of as many as 57,000 legitimate voters "was a high price to pay for the successful removal of over 450,000 ghost voters".3 The final official list totalled 8,125,529 registered voters. [End Page 85]

In 2008 Cambodia had fifty-three officially registered political parties. Only twelve parties applied to contest the elections during the official registration period from 28 April to 12 May. Eleven political parties were approved (see Table 1).4 The NEC also approved a total of 2,479 candidates (titular and alternate) and rejected the applications of 213. Only five political parties won seats: Cambodian People's Party (CPP), Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), Human Rights Party (HRP), FUNCINPEC (National United Front for Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Co-operative Cambodia) and the Norodom Ranariddth Party (NRP).

The elections were monitored by a combination of international and domestic observers and political party representatives. According to NEC figures, there were 584 international observers from twenty-seven states and organizations.5 The European Union-Election Observer Mission (EU-EOM) sent 221 observers, the largest foreign contingent. EU-EOM deployed both long-term observers to monitor the election campaign and short-term observers to monitor voting and counting on election day. The United States provided 116 observers, the second largest contingent. Japan, Australia, Russia and Vietnam among other countries provided observers but there were none from China.

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Table 1.

Results of the Cambodian National Election, 27 July 2008

The NEC accredited seventy-two domestic civil society organizations and registered 31,261 local observers. Two major election monitoring bodies, Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL) and Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) provided, respectively, 11,691 and 7,612 observers, the largest contingents. Both organizations provided long- and [End Page 86] short-term monitors. The NEC also approved 78,981 political party representatives.6 In sum, there were over 110,800 observers to monitor the elections.

According to Jerome Cheung, country director for the NDI, "[i]t is what happens before the election that does not make it fair, including CPP's total domination of broadcast media and intimidation of journalists and opposition".7 In the five years since the last national election, and more particularly since the 2007 local elections when the CPP secured control of 98 per cent of the communes, the opposition functioned in an almost continuous environment of threats, harassment and intimidation according to Human Rights Watch.8 Between February and May, CPP pressure on the SRP induced at least six of its deputies and a number of high-level officials to defect.

In April, prior to the start of the official campaign, Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong filed a criminal lawsuit for defamation against the leader of the main opposition party, Sam Rainsy. The...


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