What’s going on?

July 31, 2013

Well, the elections have happened, and Cambodia is now enveloped in a cloud of unknowing. With official results not available until the middle of August, unofficial results seem to show that the ruling CPP had a disaster, and lost at least 22 seats, winning only 68, to the opposition’s 55. The opposition CNRP is also claiming victory, saying it won 63 seats, and is calling for an investigation into electoral fraud.

The CPP were undoubtedly hit by an emerging youth vote, combined with the votes of former loyalists who were angered by incessant land grabbing, corruption and an extraordinary culture of impunity among the politically connected. Moreover, online media broke the traditional stranglehold of the typically government-friendly press on election coverage during campaigns.

Now, no one thinks the CPP are actually likely to cede power to the CNRP. But the stalemate could drag on for a while, with the next session of the new parliament not due for two months. So the country is stuck in limbo. There are wild rumours about potential rioting, and expats are stupidly nervous, although everything seems calm and orderly to me. There was an incident on Sunday night where a couple of police cars were overturned and set on fire, but really nothing to worry about. The shelves of supermarkets are apparently bare, and the country’s largest bank saw $4 million withdrawn from ATMs on Sunday night, but, to me, the mood seems fine.

The CPP has had to deny rumours that Hun Sen had fled the country, but I think that was wishful thinking on the part of the opposition.

The CPP have been congratulated by the leaders of Thailand and Bangladesh on their victory, which must be a comfort. The US has called for an investigation into ‘irregularities’ and advised US citizens “to limit their movements, avoid areas prone to gatherings, and immediately vacate any area where crowds are gathering.” China has said nothing yet, perhaps ominously.

There are interesting parallels with the ongoing elections in Zimbabwe – the two countries are roughly the same size, are ruled by long-serving autocrats, have bloody histories, tiny per-capita GDPs, endemic corruption, awful land reform issues and terrible public services. Luckily, Hun Sen isn’t calling for the public beheading of homosexuals, and isn’t even on the top ten list of the World’s Worst Dictators. So I think we should be thankful.



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