PHNOM PENH - Election monitors and other groups say Cambodia’s political leaders could learn something from the meeting US President Barack Obama will have Thursday with his campaign rival, Mitt Romney. The two men will meet for a lunch at the White House, after Romney lost his bid for the presidency earlier this month.
“If Cambodian politicians considered the national interest as their highest priority, the same type of event would happen here,” said Hang Puthea, head of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections. “We have to learn more about democracy than what we are doing.”
In his post-election victory speech, Obama said he would meet with Romney and begin a process of both sides—Democrat and Republican—working together to move the country forward, following a heated campaign between two camps seeking the US presidency.
Cambodian politicians should follow this model, Hang Puthea said. Cambodia is in a transition stage, he said, and they “must sacrifice more for democracy and must have mutual morality.”
Cambodia will hold parliamentary elections in July next year, but the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition, which currently includes the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties, with the coalition Cambodia National Rescue Party waiting in the wings, have been locked in protracted political battles since the last election, in 2008, and earlier.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy remains in exile abroad, facing criminal charges in Cambodia he says are politically motivated. The National Election Committee has removed his name from the voter registry, in what opposition lawmakers say betrays bias within the agency. NEC officials deny such claims.
Ruling party members like disgraced police chief Heng Pov, who is serving a lifetime of jail sentences for serious crimes, including extrajudicial murder, remain on the voting list, opposition officials say. NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha told VOA Khmer Thursday that the election agency is “handling” that case and others.
Meanwhile, the ruling government has come under increased criticism for its jailing of political activists and government critics, like Mam Sonando, owner of the independent Beehive Radio, which broadcasts Voice of America programming, among others.
“Anyone who wants to express his views, or politicians who are popular and could likely beat the ruling party, will face all kinds of political oppression,” Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan compared the opposition to “rebels,” and said Cambodia was practicing its own type of democracy. “Democracy is different according to each country,” he said. “And the opposition is not within the context of democracy yet.”
Tep Nitha said the meeting between Obama and Romney is one model of politics, but he said a nation’s political environment depends on “the history of policies, on the history of politicians and on the democracy of a country.”