A Dollar for democracy in Cambodia

By Viveka Bhandari

The Cambodian Democratic Movement for National Restoration was launched to promote the political values and goals of the newly formed Cambodian National Rescue Party. The most crucial of these goals is the transition of Cambodia’ political system from semi-communist and autocratic to one that is truly a democracy. The only route by which this can be achieved is the conduct of free and fair elections in 2013. Many may state that the present government was elected through an electoral process, and that is true but the question is were the elections fair or is there truth to the reports of electoral tampering?

Every election held since 1993 has been followed by media reports of vote tampering and unfair electoral practices. It may even be said that the first election of 1993 was dictated by the desire of Hun Sen to come to power rather than the will of the people. If we remember clearly during the course of the 1993 elections, the FUCINPEC won 45% of the votes and the CPP 38%. It was Hun Sen’s refusal to back down that then led to the coalition that allowed the CPP to gain a political foothold in the governing of the country. With the coup of 1997, Hun Sen ensured that the CPP became the sole holder of political power in Cambodia. The elections held in 1998 were merely a farce by which Hun Sen and the CPP could be bestowed with the mantle of political legitimacy. A report produced by Human Rights Watch in 1998 highlighted the steps taken by the CPP to ensure the results of the elections were in their favor. A result of a two-month research effort, the report described extensively the methods of political intimidation used by the CPP.

Since 1998, many who fled the country during the coup have returned but few have tried to take steps to remedy the autocratic and corrupt political structure that stifles Cambodia. The unification of the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party on July 17, 2012 in Manila changed this. On September 12, 2012 the Cambodian National Rescue Party was proudly inaugurated and is now rapidly preparing to fight the elections in 2013 with the hope that a victory will open a new political chapter for Cambodia. One which will not be tarnished by corruption, human rights violations, neglect of rural development and the denial of democracy.

A Dollar for Democracy is the campaign through which the CNRP hopes to raise funds, which will be used to equip the party for the elections. The campaign itself is symbolic of the wide reach of the party that is in contrast to the elitist structure of the CPP. Through A Dollar for Democracy the CNRP wishes to emphasize the importance of the participation of the people in the electoral and political process. Within a democracy it is the people who dictate which party is in power through their right to cast a vote. The mission of the campaign is to thereby unite the supporters of the CNRP in an effort to raise funds and simultaneously allow them to develop confidence in the role they play in the political arena of Cambodia. Whether it is a contribution of $1 from those who reside in the rural Cambodia or those who are not registered to vote, or a contribution of $1000 from the urban elite it is still a step closer towards the establishment of democracy.

Southeast Asia is growing at a rapid rate and now is the time for Cambodia to make the necessary political, social and economic changes. Changes which will not only enable it to actively participate in this growth but also allow it to move closer to achieving the economic status of its democratic neighbors such as India.