APPEAL TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
FOR DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN CAMBODIA
We are making this appeal to the international community as leaders of
Cambodia’s democratic opposition, which has recently united to create
the Democratic Movement for National Rescue (DMNR). We are preparing
for the next legislative elections, scheduled for July 28, 2013.
One year exactly before the elections, we wish to warn the
international community to exercise the greatest vigilance with regard
to the poll, which it must not accept as being legitimate and
reflecting the popular will unless two fundamental conditions are met
The first condition is thorough reform of the body that administers
elections in Cambodia, the National Election Committee (NEC). This
organization should be non-partisan, but is in fact under the control
of the ruling party, the CPP. As long as the NEC remains in its
current form, there can be no fair elections.
The NEC must be reformed in line with recommendations from the largest
international observer group monitoring the last national elections in
2008. The Election Observation Mission from the European Union said
that the elections fell short of international standards. It made the
"essential recommendation" that the NEC should operate as a fully
independent institution to enhance its credibility among the
electorate. Similar recommendations have been made by independent
human rights organizations, but ignored by the government.
The second condition is that opposition leader Sam Rainsy, living
abroad under threat of prison since 2009, must be allowed to return to
contest the elections. Sam Rainsy, as president of the DMNR, is a
leading rival to prime minister Hun Sen who will run for another term.
There can be no real election unless he is allowed to take part.
Without his participation it would be like a boxing match with one
fighter. Why is Hun Sen scared of a fair fight? Why does he want to
The European Parliament, in its "Resolution on Cambodia, in particular
the case of Sam Rainsy" adopted on October 21, 2010, condemned "all
politically motivated sentences against representatives of the
opposition and NGOs." The resolution stated that "the strategy of
Cambodia's ruling party is to use a politically subservient judiciary
to crack down on all government critics."
Concerning Sam Rainsy’s expulsion from parliament and the stripping of
his civil and political rights to stop him from running, the
Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) declared in January 2011 that it has
''become urgent to review Mr. Sam Rainsy's case'' and called on the
authorities to take action ''without delay so as to enable Mr. Sam
Rainsy to resume his rightful place as a member of the National
Assembly." In October 2011, the IPU called again on the Cambodian
government to ensure "the opposition leader’s rehabilitation so as to
enable him to stand as a candidate in the next parliamentary
Elections meeting these conditions would go some way toward fulfilling
the 1991 Paris peace accords on Cambodia. The agreements guarantee "a
system of liberal democracy, on the basis of pluralism" for Cambodia.
It is clear that these have yet to be delivered, but it's never too
late to try.
Hun Sen is the only Cold War communist leader to survive in power
today. He will only respond to threats that have direct consequences
for himself and the group around him. The international community must
immediately make Hun Sen understand that it will not recognize the
result of illegitimate elections, or any government that stems from
them. Friendly democratic governments must make it clear that they
will not send observers to monitor fixed elections where the result is
known in advance.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy must be allowed into the country as a
matter of urgency. He must be able to return freely and safely to
Cambodia at least several months before voting day in order to take
part in the election process. Progress has been made in Myanmar where
the opposition is now allowed to contest elections. Yet Sam Rainsy is
still denied freedom of movement and the right to oppose the
government. It makes no sense to applaud progress in Myanmar while
endorsing totalitarian drift in Cambodia. Every day that Sam Rainsy is
denied entry into Cambodia makes it harder for legitimate elections to
Failure to achieve genuine elections would mean that the
often-deceived Cambodian people would lose all faith in the show of
democracy. The invalid democratic process would lose its capacity to
serve as a channel for their grievances, leading to an increased risk
of instability and violence.
History shows that totalitarianism is overthrown when the forces of
democracy come together. Unification of previously fragmented
democratic forces in the Yugoslav elections of 2000 led to the fall of
President Slobodan Milosevic, who was indicted for war crimes by the
International Criminal Court. Likewise, in Georgia and in Ukraine,
united opposition prevented ruling elites from high-jacking elections.
Protestors gave roses to soldiers in Georgia's Rose Revolution of
2003. Ukraine's 2004 revolution was symbolized by the wearing of
Imagine the frustration of the united democrats of Yugoslavia/Serbia,
Georgia and Ukraine if those dictatorships had been able to maintain
themselves in power through falsified elections. Imagine if they had
done so by forcing the leader of the opposition into foreign exile.
There would certainly have been more violence in each country. The
development of democracy in the world would have been derailed, with
consequences that we shall never know.
Hun Sen's strategy of seeking to divide and rule has run its course. A
united Cambodian opposition has now been achieved. The democratic
movement has reached a critical threshold and its momentum will be
impossible to halt.
During the Cold War, states in Eastern Europe and Asia fell to
communism like dominoes. But a domino can fall in either direction.
The free world must seize the opportunity presented by Cambodia's
national elections. Forcing Hun Sen to play by democratic rules would
not only empower the Cambodian people to determine their own future.
It would also give an impetus to democracy and human rights in
countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, China and North Korea. The
domino effect could be played out in reverse. This is the opportunity,
and responsibility, that the world’s democratic leaders face today.