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APPEAL TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY FOR DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN CAMBODIA

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(Photo: Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy at Manila bilateral meeting – SRP

July 28, 2012

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 in advance.

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 box alone?

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.”

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 take place.

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 orange ribbons.

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.

Sam Rainsy 
SRP President
DMNR President

Kem Sokha
HRP President
DMNR Vice-President

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