A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 31 July 2008

Opposition rejects results of Cambodian election

Mrs. Mu Sochua speaks on loudspeaker.

ABC Radio, Australia

In Cambodia, several opposition parties have rejected the results of last weekend's elections, saying the vote was rigged in favour of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

However, a protest rally held by the opposition failed to gather many supporters... and international monitors say while there were serious problems with the conduct of the election, there was not enough evidence to discredit the CPP's landslide victory.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speakers: Mu Sochua, candidate for Sam Rainsy Party; Martin Callanan, head of the EU election monitoring team in Cambodia

(SFX disgruntled voters)

COCHRANE: The passion was there but not the numbers. Four opposition parties had called on all citizens who were denied the chance to vote in Sunday's national elections to come forward and make their complaints heard. Thousands were expected, but only about three hundred people arrived at the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters in central Phnom Penh. They told of how their names had been removed from voter lists, even though many had cast a ballot in last year's commune elections. Outside the headquarters, frustrations spilled over.

(SFX shouting & traffic noise)

Sam Rainsy Party leader, Mu Sochua, took up a megaphone and began berating a group of onlookers who she accused of intimidating the public.

SOCHUA: In front of the party headquarters, what do we see. We see the village chief, we see the people in plain clothes but with their walkie talkie. We recognize these people. These people are part of the military, part of the police that have been trying to intimidate, to threaten the people for too long. This is enough, this is way too much. We cannot accept this culture. This is a culture of threat, of intimidation. We are going back to a culture of the Khmer Rouge type control of the people. That is not acceptable.

COCHRANE: Whatever the reason, the poor turnout was a major blow to the opposition parties, undermining their rejection of the election results.
But the concerns over the election conduct do have some merit, according to European Union election monitoring team, the largest group of international observers in Cambodia.

Martin Callanan, is the head of the EU election observers. He said the EU's overall assessment was that the election failed to meet a number of key international standards, despite a lower level of political violence than in previous years.

MARTIN: But of course you have to look at the whole campaign environment. The overwhelming dominance in the media by the ruling party we have a very detailed analysis of this. The fact that it was very difficult in some areas for opposition parties to campaign. Their activities were restricted. The fact that the CPP as the party in power controls all the local election administrations as well. They put up a lot of artificial barriers in place of opposition parties. They used the State's resources. So it was very difficult for there to be a genuinely fair competition.

COCHRANE: Callanan said that at least 57 thousand names had been wrongly removed from voters lists in an audit before the election, but said it was impossible to tell how many other names disappeared. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party says the number was as high as one million people, but there was no way to independently check that figure. The National Election Committee has downplayed the missing names, saying that any complaints about the voting lists should have been lodged before the election.

However, Martin Callanan from the EU, says the problems with the election would not be enough to change the sweeping success of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, which won around 60 percent of the votes and around 90 of the 123 seats in Parliament.

MARTIN: For a result like that to be overturned, then there would have to be substantiated evidence produced of very large amounts of electoral malpractices. But so far the evidence that we've seen has been on a very limited scale, which doesn't to say that the evidence doesn't exist but all I can go on is what I've seen and from the evidence I've seen so far there isn't enough evidence to say that the result, on the scale it was, would have been effected materially if these anomalies hadn't taken place.

COCHRANE: It's unclear what the next move might be for the opposition parties in Cambodia. Early results suggest the Sam Rainsy Party might have won around 26 seats but the others barely registered, with FUNCINPEC on track for just two seats, the Norodom Rannaridh Party another two seats and the Human Rights Party led by Khem Sokha in line for three seats. This means that, for the first time, the ruling Cambodian People's Party, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, will not need a coalition partner to form government. Liam Cochrane for Radio Australia, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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