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Letter to Editor – Cambodia’s elections: Another milestone in democracy

Suos Yara Share:

Elections are the core component of liberal democracy. Cambodia, after gaining peace in early 1990s, has organised five general elections since 1993. The first commune council election was organised in 2002 to promote grassroots democracy and decentralisation.
There are signs of improvement in the electoral system in the kingdom, especially after years of steady reforms and international support. 
The local elections that took place last Sunday were another milestone in strengthening the quality of electoral democracy. More than 80 percent of the total 7.8 million of registered voters went to vote – the turnout rate was much higher than the local election in 2012, which was only 65 percent.
From the first day of election campaigning to voting day, no major voting irregularities or malpractices had been reported. Some minor complaints related to a lack of voting materials and voters being prevented from observing vote counting at a few polling stations. The results were acceptable to all parties. 
The preliminary election results show that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) received 75 percent of the total commune council seats, while the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) received 29.5 percent. In terms of popular votes, the CPP got 3.5 million votes (51 percent) and the CNRP 3 million votes (44 percent). 
Compared with the general elections in 2013, the CPP gained 300,000 more votes, while the CNRP gained 90,000 more votes. It is clear that the CPP will win majority in the 2018 general elections if there is no disruption to the general political trend. 
Independent international observers evaluated the smooth electoral process. Cambodia perhaps has a more mature and liberal democratic political system compared with other countries in the Mekong region. That is the achievement of national reconciliation, the enhancement of institutional capacity and leadership of political parties and the support from the international community. 
Cambodia is open to all international friends and partners to support and strengthen the democratic institution – it is the foundation of long-term peace and development. All political parties in Cambodia share a common vision that for the country to develop and catch up with other Asean member countries, Cambodia must strengthen its institutional capacity and governance. 
The electoral reforms have received support from Japan, the European Union and the United Nations. As illustrated in the recent local elections, the National Election Committee has done a great job in organising free and fair elections. Although it is not still perfect, the electoral system has been improved remarkably. 
The Centrist Democrats International (CDI) stated: “We welcome the use of multiparty, free, fair and regular elections as a democratic means to compete for public offices has become Cambodia’s destiny.” The statement from the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) commended the achievements of the National Election Committee in organising a free and fair election. 
It said: “This year, the situation is generally calm, stable and peaceful. Political parties are more mature and they give priority to dialogue and nonviolent confrontation as a means to resolve their differences.” 
Another statement by the Centrist Asia-Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI) similarly stressed “voters appeared to be more enthusiastic and happy to take part in the election process. There was no sign of intimidation, coercion and violence…Cambodia has made a lot of progress since the country fully achieved peace and stability after the transition period of the late 1990s.”
The main political parties, the CPP and CNRP, have also issued statements commending the NEC for the smooth, inclusive, free and fair elections. All agreed that the election marked significant progress in electoral democracy. It is highly expected the general election in 2018 will continue to be free and fair, while reducing certain election irregularities. 
All Cambodians are the winners. Democracy benefits everyone. The future of democracy in Cambodia is bright. Although there is backsliding sometimes, Cambodia’s democracy is thriving and advancing. International support is critical to enhancing the quality of democracy in the kingdom. 
Suos Yara, 
Member of Parliament of Cambodia.

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