An opportunity to reset the Cambodia political landscape

• Editorial

An opportunity to reset the Cambodia political landscape
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It is not often that a country gets the chance to change its political landscape without the intervention of armed forces. One has only to look at Thailand where the political landscape has undergone forced change 12 times since 1932.

On Sunday polling booths across Cambodia will open for what will be the country’s sixth Cambodia general election since the signing in 1991 of the Paris Peace Accords. Some eight million people are registered to vote.

In one corner with a decided advantage is the incumbent Cambodia’s People Party (CPP) headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who aims to continue his 33 year rule.

In the other corner is a collection of 19 small, largely unknown political parties, only five of who contested the last Cambodia general election in 2013, with more than a few of the remaining with thinly veiled links to the ruling party.

Thais vote in the 2013 Thailand general election - the last opportunity they have had to do so
Thais vote in the 2013 Thailand general election – the last opportunity they have had to do so John Le Fevre

In the lead-up to Sunday’s poll the absence of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was deregistered last year following the arrest of party leader Kem Sokha on treason charges, has dominated much of what has been written.

A so-called ‘clean finger’ campaign encouraging people not to vote and therefore not have their finger stained with indicating ink has been called for by former CNRP supporters, including former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The call for opponents of the CPP to boycott the election is a selfish, self-centred, misguided, and arrogant attempt to take away a right that people in countries around the world have fought, protested, and died to obtain and maintain. The right to vote.

While the 2018 Cambodia general election might not be perfect, very few polls are. The cost of corruption-free government and governance is high. One only has to look at Singapore where the prime minister’s salary exceeds that of the leaders of the USA, UK, Japan, China, Germany, France, and Canada combined.

Taking your bat and ball and going home and encouraging other people to do the same because you are out of the race is not the answer. The 2018 Cambodia general election is not just about two men. It is about much more.

In Thailand people are becoming increasingly aware of what has been denied them for more than four years since the 2014 “military intervention”, with the country’s military junta appearing in no rush to test their popularity against established, but still oppressed political opponents.

For former politicians and activists living in exile to call on others living at home to voluntarily surrender a right that others just across the Cambodia-Thai border are busting at the seams to regain is as self-centred and egotistical as calling for the EU to punish the entire country in an attempt to hurt its leaders.

In many ways it is no different to sporadic attempts by the fugitive Shinawatra former Thai prime ministers to remain relevant in Thai politics with their occasional social media posts and comments when their use-by date has also passed.

Cambodia's 8 mln registered voters have 20 parties to chose from wth each valid vote cast sending either a message of support or complaint
Cambodia’s 8 mln registered voters have 20 parties to chose from wth each valid vote cast sending either a message of support or complaint Sa-nguan Khumrungroj

While the cards are heavily stacked against even the larger of the remaining minor Cambodia political parties attracting enough votes to force a change of government, even a handful of new voices in the 125-seat Cambodia parliament would be an improvement on just one voice.

In 2013 the CNRP won 44 per cent of the vote with  smaller political parties capturing a further 3.06 per cent.

Rather than condemning Cambodians to another five years of the same old CNRP v CPP rhetoric of a dysfunctional two party system the opportunity on Sunday exists for the Khmer people to reset their entire political landscape and give life to new political parties, new voices, and new ideas. The very things the country needs to meet the changing global and regional market head on.

A broader mix of political representation comprising younger (and older) voices with better, more up-to-date, or just different education, ideas, knowledge experience, and absolutely no idea on parliamentary protocols, but the fire, heart, and passion to voice their views might be exactly what Cambodia needs. enough of two people speaking on behalf of all citizens.

Despite what some people may say, every vote does count. Government’s are as much voted out of power  as they are elected into office. It’s the same vote, just placed in a different square.

All Khmer people who are able to get to a polling booth on Sunday, July 29 should do so and use this rare chance to send either a message of support or opposition to the ruling party by casting a valid vote, rather than playing foolish games at the behest of people who don’t have to live with the consequences.

Destroying, defacing, or failing to record a valid vote will only guarantee five more years of the same.


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John Le Fevre

Thailand editor at AEC News Today

John is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer, and copy editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

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