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International Pressure Can Prevent Political Stalemate, Analysts Say

President of National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy, right, gives a speech during his tour visit to Boeung Kak lake area, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013.
President of National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy, right, gives a speech during his tour visit to Boeung Kak lake area, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013.

WASHINGTON DC - As a political deadlock over last month’s election results becomes more likely, experts in the US say international pressure may be the best way to hasten the formation of a new Cambodian government.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party says it will not concede the elections, which officials from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party say they won.

The stalemate could result in a boycott of the first National Assembly meeting two months from now by the opposition, making the formation of a new government legally impossible.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has called for public demonstrations if an independent investigation is not held into allegations of irregularities, which he says cost the opposition the election.

It remains unclear how much the international community can do, however, or how much the ruling party and Prime Minister Hun Sen will allow.

“It is very likely that a UN inquiry would uncover some evidence of fraud in Cambodia's recent elections,” said John Ciorciari, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan. “That would raise pressure on the CPP to re-run the election or hand over more seats. For that reason, the CPP will probably not agree to any inquiry in which it is not represented.”

Both sides can find a compromise that won’t end in “a head-on collision in the streets,” he said. “The CPP could offer appointments, pledges of specific policy reforms, or take other steps short of agreeing to a full UN inquiry. The CNRP's best strategy is to maintain pressure on the government through peaceful protests and calls for an inquiry while negotiating privately with CPP leaders for concessions. Any CNRP protests have to remain entirely peaceful to avoid justifying a crackdown.”

The CPP may have difficulty bringing opposition lawmakers over to its side with incentives, he said. And “a prolonged period without a government is not in the country’s interest.” However, the CPP does not see the UN or the West as “honest brokers, which makes it hard for them to play mediating roles,” he said.

Shihoko Goto, a researcher at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington, said Cambodians still have faith in the democratic process, so calls for a recount should be taken seriously.

“The international community, including the United States, could pressure the Hun Sen government to do so,” she said.

A continued stand-off could lead to unrest, she said, and that could in turn lead to a crackdown. “While the king has called for post-election harmony, there is real fear of the government taking action against protesters. This should be avoided at all costs. Yet there is unfortunately little appetite from the international community to take preemptive measures at this stage, as they expect any unresolved issues over election results to be handled domestically.”

Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told VOA Khmer the CPP is “trying to run a one-party state.” But donors should make sure that their aid does not go to a government formed from a “stolen election.”

“It really depends on politics,” he said. “Is the ruling party strong enough to keep foreigners or independent people and institutions out of the review process? I think if Cambodian donors insist on it, the Cambodian government has no choice but to allow it.”

“The United Nations should get involved,” he said. “They are responsible from the Paris agreement and from Untac. And the United State should get involved. The United Stated has called on the authorities to have an independent investigation. The EU needs to make the same call; Japan needs to get involved. They all need to put pressure on the government to ensure an independent and transparent investigation, so that the Cambodian people have confidence in the result. And right now there is no reason why they should have confidence.”

Morana Song, a UN spokeswoman, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is following the situation in the country closely.

“The United Nations encourages the competent authorities to adjudicate complaints fairly and transparently, with the ultimate aim of ensuring the accurate determination of, and respect for, the will of the Cambodian people,” Song said in an e-mail. “The Secretary-General continues to follow the situation in the country closely.”