The 30-day campaign period ahead of Sunday’s elections ended relatively smoothly, with little violence reported, but observers say they are worried that the post-election period could see demonstrations with a potential for clashes.
Those fears come from a period of unrest following the 1998 elections, during which pro-opposition demonstrations met with violence from security forces. This year’s campaign period has seen a high level of youth support for both the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, further adding to the concerns.
Yem Rithypol, a former Buddhist monk who took part in protests in 1998 and now lives in the US state of Maryland, said memories of those times remain fresh in his mind.
“I would like to appeal to all the Cambodian public and youth supporting both parties: use your hearts and patriotic sentiment and your willingness to help the country in a moderate way,” he told VOA Khmer. “Don’t lean too much on one side or the other. Otherwise, it will lead to your great disappointment over your expectations. You should see the real situation on the ground.”
Political officials too should be wary of the post-election period and should continue dialogue from now until the end of the elections, to ensure they are respecting the wishes of voters, he said. This means finding inclusive solutions for all parties, so that none feel excluded from the process.
More than 9 million Cambodians have registered to vote in Sunday’s polls, which will elect members for 123 National Assembly seats and determine the make-up of the new government. The election process has so far been marred by allegations of irregularities, including inflated voter lists, potentially ineligible voters allowed at the polls, poor voter ID distribution, and—most recently—the discovery that election ink meant to prohibit multiple voting is easily washed off. Rights groups also say the lead-up to the elections saw unfair media bias toward the ruling party and attacks on the opposition, including the expulsion of opposition parliamentarians from the Assembly.
All of this has fueled concerns that after the election, not all voters will be satisfied with the results, which could lead to violence, said Prom Saunora, a community leader in Washington. “For those who think of using violence, you must reconsider your actions, because you cannot use violence to crush the democratic decisions of the people.”
Eight different parties are competing in the elections, though many observers say the real contest is between the ruling and opposition parties. For Cambodians in the US, that means it is especially important that people exercise their right to vote.
“Please go vote without fear,” said Meas Samorn, a resident of Utah. “This is your chance to vote in your best leader.” VOA Khmer's social media election updates on Storify: