Sunday,2007-4-22: After The Commune Council Elections
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 504
Looking back three weeks to the day of the Cambodian Commune Council Elections of 1 April 2007 it is a challenge to reflect on what has happened, in spite of the fact that the official results are to be published by the National Election Committee only on 24 April.
The numbers are impressive. More than 100,000 candidates from 12 parties tried to get the 11,353 seats in the 1,621 communes and urban sub-districts (sangkats) – appealing to the 7.8 million registered voters, though only about 70% of them – the lowest number in Cambodia in any election since the 1993 UNTAC organized one – cast their ballots at 14,428 polling stations.
Though the official results are not yet published, it seems that about 98% of all elected commune chiefs are members of the Cambodian People’s Party, with the Sam Rainsy Party having probably only 28, and Funcinpec getting 2, while the Norodom Ranariddh Party – and all others – got none.
From the presidential elections in Nigeria, held this Sunday – the African country with the highest oil production – news are still coming in: 12 persons killed by violence, then it was corrected to 14, and at present the news say 21 persons lost their lives during the election. The constitution does not allow President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been in this office since 1999, to continue to hold the highest power for more than two 4-year terms, to avoid too much personal power to be built up.
Also the presidential elections in France are still continuing today – the voting stations will be open until 20:00 in the evening to allow all voters to vote – but even now it seems to be clear that the voter turnout is the highest since 1981, as the 44.5 million voters seem to be very concerned about the further direction of French politics. The two strongest candidates, the conservative Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Ms. Ségolène Royal, provide clearly different political programs.
First of all, the fact that the election day in Cambodia was fairly peaceful is positive – compared to the violent outbursts observed at present in Nigeria and at other times elsewhere. There were problems perceived in Cambodia during the time before the elections, and when there is too much anger building up during the campaign period, the election itself may turn violent – instead of being the occasion where future solutions for existing conflicts in society are being found: precisely by electing representatives of the different ideas, plans, and visions for the future.
But it is exactly here that serious reflection is called for: this time, many people in Cambodia did not care to vote – or they could not. Since the 1993 UN organized and supervised elections, more than 90 percent, later more than 80 percent of Cambodian voters took their voting power very serious. This time, the percentage was down to around 70 percent. Why? And what does this mean for the future?
Quite different reasons have been proposed: from electoral apathy to electoral confusion. Many people are disappointed seeing party political games of personality centered politics – the Norodom Ranariddh Party got only about 8 % of the popular vote, while the 25% for candidates of the Sam Rainsy Party translates only to a tiny number of commune chiefs. Election observers point also to the rather high number of voters who suffered from administrative confusion – their name was not in the voter list – many of these people had been recently, and not always voluntarily resettled – or they were to go to a different voting station from where they assumed to be related to. The Prime Minister even suggested that many women might not have voted, because they did not want their polished and painted fingernails to get dirty from the undeletable black ink used to mark those persons who had already voted.
The attitude and approach of many politicians who would like to see political change in Cambodia have, so far, been among the powers who have clearly contributed to the present political constellations which the opposite results: the many different small parties consume a lot of activists’ commitment and energy, leading to election results for most of them under 1 percent of the votes – and this strengthening the biggest party. Unless a fundamental rethinking and reorientation about the role of political parties in a democratic state gets more attention – not groups with a common loyalty towards a person can play constructive roles in society (the present demise of the Norodom Ranariddh Party is an example with its own problems), but parties which bring together broad coalitions of different personalities who – together! – elaborate constructive, practical plans and strategies for the future of the whole society. Then, the creative power of the “multi-party liberal democratic regime guaranteeing human rights and the respect of law” mentioned in the Preamble of the Constitution can come to its full development: in a society where different parties do not want to compete to get much positions of power and of benefits, but the multi-party democracy will compete in presenting the most useful and helpful ideas for all – and they will hope to find support from the electorate.
What is to be hoped for towards the 2008 national elections is a broad public debate about the different party programs, instead of personality contests. The more Cambodia becomes an integral member of the international community of nations, the more such a change from focusing on leadership persons to focusing on ideas and concepts will be called for.