[Editor’s Note: In the absence of its main competitor, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party is primed for a landslide victory in the general election this weekend. Amid widespread criticism of an electoral process accompanied by a sweeping political crackdown on dissent, the CPP continues to defend its actions. VOA Khmer’s Aun Chhengpor recently spoke with Suos Yara, a CPP lawmaker and spokesman, about the ruling party’s definition of electoral democracy.]
VOA: What are the achievements of the CPP that make you proud?
Suos Yara: The biggest achievement of the CPP is the peace and the stability we bring to the people nationwide. This is the first thing we feel proud of. Second, it is the economic growth and the new job creation for Cambodian people. We think these are the two biggest accomplishments. The third is that we stay with the people at all times and in all circumstances.
VOA: From your and your party’s point of view, what makes the July 29 election important?
Suos Yara: The election is a point demanded by the people as stated in the constitution, which permits the organization of a constitutional monarchy that ensures a liberal multi-party system. Thus, the people’s electoral participation is their freedom protected by law and their individual autonomy.
VOA: Cambodia National Rescue Movement President Sam Rainsy said, in the absence of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, that the July 29 election will be illegitimate. What do you think are the factors to determine its legitimacy?
Suos Yara: The legitimacy of the July 29 [election] is that there are 20 political parties legally registered to compete in accordance with the Kingdom of Cambodia’s laws. Secondly, Cambodian people registered in the voter poll are the ones who shall decide their own fates. Thirdly, regarding [the speeches of] Mr. Sam Rainsy, a prisoner and a constant provocateur to the Cambodian people who routinely disturbs the development in the communities; it is an unfortunate propaganda in an attempt to destroy the peace and the stability of Cambodia.
VOA: Is recognition from foreign governments, including China, important to determine an election’s legitimacy?
Suos Yara: In general, Cambodia is friendly to all countries with no nation as an enemy. If those foreign friends are happy to observe the vote, we welcome that. And that’s fine if foreign friends do not come to observe. But the factors to define the legitimacy of our election is our law. No one can be more authoritative over our sovereignty, independence, and constitution.
VOA: It is common that the ruling politicians tend to believe that the CPP is the only party that is able to bring about peace and stability to the country, otherwise there would be war. If so, why do we need an election?
Suos Yara: In general, the people who turn out to vote to tell us about their support and confidence in one party to run the government. So, if they keep supporting and believing in a government run by the same party, it is a very good thing because they think that the CPP is the party with a history of national liberation, with a history of national unification, with achievements in bringing and protecting peace, stability, and economic growth. And the people keep casting their votes for us. All the accusations are just made by envious people with neither a legal nor democratic basis. As a democracy, there will be elections regularly. As long as the people are able to vote, the power in Cambodia is decided by the ballot box. We see this practice in many countries. Even in Germany, which is a Western democracy, those who win electorally remain in power; they do not talk term limits, that it doesn’t have to be three or four terms. The constant re-election of Chancellor Angela Merkel will keep her in power if the German people keep supporting [her]. Same here with the CPP. If the people keep having confidence in us, we will remain in power.
VOA: What do you think will happen if any political party defeats the CPP on July 29?
Suos Yara: That will be the people’s decision that we welcome because that party must have properly joined the electoral competition in accordance with the law.
VOA: So if it loses, will the CPP hand over power peacefully to the winning party?
Suos Yara: Respect the laws of the Kingdom of Cambodia. And we will not discuss anything besides respecting the laws and what will be decided by the ballot box.
VOA: Cambodia is a designated democracy since the Paris Peace Agreement. How important is a democracy in Cambodia?
Suos Yara: From the year 1991 or from the year 1993 when we promulgated a constitution, our workers did not earn more than $50 in a month ... and now our minimum monthly salary stands at $170. This is a small thing standing among the big other stuff people demand. It is small for those individuals living abroad who do not understand Cambodia’s situation. But for us, who understand Cambodia, we know clearly how much we earned back in time. And now we can understand how these infrastructures – for example, some 20,000 kilometers of roads – are even possible? It‘s because of peace and stability. Otherwise, we have no roads, no hospitals, or no schools.
VOA: What is your outlook on that to the future of Cambodia’s democracy?
Suos Yara: Individually, I think that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia has priceless value, in which the Cambodian People’s Party will continue to respect the constitution and respect the values of Nation, Religion, and King.
VOA: Do you think that some people may not turn out to vote?
Suos Yara: It is a legally permitted right and freedom for an individual to vote or not. But those who campaign urging people not to vote are breaking the law enough to be punished. Regarding this matter, we should not get confused. To not vote is your personal right you can exercise, but if you incite and lead people to boycott the vote, it is an action violating the law.
VOA: Cambodia has grown closer with China and other Asian powers, like Japan and India, while having a difficult time with the Western world. Do you think this trend is positive?
Suos Yara: I said earlier that Cambodia is friendly to all friends in the world and Cambodia takes no country as an enemy. Just that relationship can be closer or not with different countries. No country is our enemy. Secondly, there is a say in Khmer that “trading near is better than far”. Therefore, Cambodia shall engage with as many Asian countries as possible as a priority, but we do not take the rest of our foreign friends for granted; we will keep good relationships and we keep talking to everybody.