Free and fair elections are critical in an electoral democracy. After nearly three decades of civil war and foreign occupation, Cambodia in 1993 adopted a liberal democratic political system.
Cambodians go to the polls on July 29 and the 2018 general election campaign has been in full swing since this weekend. Political parties have issued their policy platform and promises to improve the lives of more than 16 million Cambodian people. The election campaign started smoothly and to date no violence has been reported, although complaints were lodged by minor parties claiming they were discriminated against by the authorities.
The garnering of votes is becoming more challenging now as voters become more informed, critical and demanding. The expectations of voters are high due to their better level of education and awareness of issues publicised by social media. The political parties have generally focused their campaigns on some key issues such as peace, development, corruption, youth employment, social justice, social safety nets, land disputes, deforestation, migration, rising cost of living, energy prices, and livelihoods of factory workers and farmers.
The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has issued a ten-point policy platform including the provision of benefits to factory workers and public servants, the reduction of electricity cost, and the promotion of social safety nets. The main theme of the CPP is “peace and development”.
Although it is a foregone conclusion that the CPP will have a landslide victory, uncertainties remain with regards to the voting behavior of first-time voters and supporters of the defunct CNRP. If the supporters of the opposition CNRP decide to vote for a particular party that they think can replace the outlawed CNRP, it will again challenge the predominant CPP. The key question is which political party can resonate the sentiments and expectations of first-time voters and those who voted for the CNRP in the 2013 general election and 2017 local elections.
Some new political parties have claimed that they represent the will and spirit of the opposition movement. However, they have yet to show any credible leadership. Voters are looking for transformative leaders who can drastically reform state institutions and put people at the center of their development vision. They are also looking for a governance system that is clean, transparent, and efficient.
Corruption is the root cause of many social issues in Cambodia and without effectively addressing it, Cambodia cannot realise its development vision to become a middle-income country by 2030 and high-income country by 2050. This must be tackled urgently.