The Khmer Times, 1 June 2017
Democratisation is a never-ending process. There is always room for improvement to strengthen democratic governance to promote people-centred development and ensure equal opportunity and social and economic justice for all.
Elections are an important component of democracy. The electoral system in Cambodia has improved steadily after five general elections and three rounds of local elections.
Although there have been some irregularities and malpractices, the elections were generally regarded as milestones in consolidating electoral democracy.
The upcoming commune elections will mark more progress.
The election campaigns have been largely peaceful compared with previous one – and that is a positive manifestation of the increasing maturity of political parties.
The elections, under close international scrutiny, will be a critical test for the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) that has dominated rural politics since the first local elections in 2002.
The opposition coalition – the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) – has gained strength since the general elections in 2013 as a top challenger to the power and status quo dominated by the CPP.
The CPP received 1,597 commune chiefs out of the country’s 1,621 communes with 60 percent of the total votes in 2002. It had 1,591 with 61.1 percent of the total vote in 2007 and 1,592 commune chiefs out of 1,633 communes with 61.8 percent of total votes in 2012.
As the political race is intensifying, political uncertainties and risks are rising. Ensuring free and fair elections is the best way to avert risks.
Therefore, continued support from the international community is critical.
Electoral reforms have been mainly supported by Japan, the European Union and the United States through the National Election Committee and civil society organisations.
Election monitoring and a feedback mechanism is also critical to enhancing the standard and quality of the electoral system. Cambodia has been open to international election observers.
The legitimacy of any government is based on both input legitimacy – people’s participation and elections – and output legitimacy – economic growth and opportunities for the people.
To improve the quality and standard of electoral democracy, which is the main source of input legitimacy, the National Election Committee (NEC) has called for the participation of the international community.
Several embassies and international organisations will be independent observers.
About 60,000 independent observers from Cambodia and other countries have registered with the National Election Committee – this number is far higher than that of previous elections.
It reflects strong interest and belief in a thriving democracy in the kingdom.
Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has separately invited some international friends.
The International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), Centrist Democrats International (CDI) and the Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI) have positively responded to the call by sending a small number of observers who have broad experience in monitoring elections.
ICAPP launched in 2000 is a global political organisation with 364 membership parties from 53 countries with the objective of promoting exchanges, cooperation and mutual understanding between political parties in Asia.
Vijay Jolly, a member of the ICAPP Standing Committee from India, will lead the 12-member delegation from eight countries.
The CDI, formerly known as Christian Democrats International, was founded in 1961 with the aim of promoting the respect of human rights, human dignity and democracy. It is part of a global political alliance with more than 70 political parties from Europe, Asia, Latin America, America and Africa.
Andrés Pastrana Arango, the president of CDI and a former president Columbia, will lead a team of 10 members from seven countries.
Agung Laksono, the vice-chairman of CAPDI and the former Speaker of Indonesia, will lead a team of eight members from four countries. CAPDI was founded in 2006 by a group of political leaders, business leaders and scholars who share common values and a vision on democracy.
These independent, voluntary international observers – working in compliance with the Cambodian election law, the regulations of the National Election Committee and other related codes of conduct and professionalism – will play a complementary role to ensure free and fair elections.
Any post-election political impasse will be minimised if the elections are conducted freely and fairly and all parties accept the election results.