Same same, but different

August 12, 2013

Apologies to anyone who’s bored by the recent election here in Cambodia, but it’s a pretty big ongoing story, and difficult to ignore.

To recap, there are basically two parties, both of whom are claiming victory: the ruling CPP, which says it won 68 seats, down from 90, and the opposition CNRP, which is claiming 63. Both cannot be right, so there’s a lot of faffing about going on with the National Election Committee and various independent observers looking at ‘irregularities’ in the voting process.

The opposition CNRP, led by the charismatic Sam Rainsy, is desperate to get the United Nations involved in any investigation; the CPP don’t want this. Meanwhile, tensions in the country are mounting. Someone planted a bomb outside the back door of the Municipal Court a couple of nights ago, which blew up a bit of pavement at 0100hrs. No one has claimed responsibility. Was it the CNRP? Unlikely – there’s not much to be gained by that for them. Was it the CPP, trying to make it look like the CNRP? No one knows.

In a slightly more ominous move, soldiers in armoured personnel carriers were spotted in the capital a couple of days ago, the first time heavy armour has been deployed anywhere in the country, apart from on the Thai border, in the past decade. A brigadier told a local paper that “we’re just bringing them back to the warehouse for repairs,” although from the look of them, they’re in pretty good shape. And when he says “warehouse” it looks rather like he meant “by the side of the main highways in and out of the capital.”

The deployment comes after the country’s interior minister warned of “trouble” if the election situation isn’t sorted out, presumably in the CPP’s favour, fairly quickly.

The consensus amongst people I’ve been talking to is that Sam Rainsy should take his guaranteed 55 seats and just get on with it, lining himself up for much bigger gains in five years time. Prime Minister Hun Sen is on the back foot right now, and is going to have to concede some power. But he is a wily and often brutal political streetfighter, and has a lot to lose, so anything could happen.

So things are a little tense here in Phnom Penh. But only a little. And Sam Rainsy, for some reason, has popped off to the States for his daughter’s wedding, which is adding to the feeling of instability. But generally life continues pretty much as usual.

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