Unrestrained ruler

If former King Norodom Sihanouk were up for election, he would be ared of an overwhelming majority. Even today, the aged monarch is revered by the 14 million Cambodians. But since this alternative does not present itself, the situation is clear: The current incumbent will probably remain in power after the elections.

It would be a sensation if the People's Party (CPP) with its strongman Hun Sen were able to take over the country after the parliamentary elections on 27 June. July would not continue to rule with a large majority. After the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror from 1975 to 1979, which left behind a devastated country and millions of victims, a new era began for Cambodia in 1993. The United Nations accompanied the transition from violence and civil war to stability, albeit precarious, with its most extensive and costly mission to date. To date, the powerful CPP has not allowed fair political competition. It is significant that the first free elections under UN command were also the only ones that the CPP did not win. Hun Sen corrected the result four years later. Staged bloody coup and chased king's son Norodom Ranariddh from prime minister's post. In 1998, his party bought votes on a large scale, his critics claim, and in 2003 he falsified ballots en masse. Meanwhile, the CPP hardly uses more subtle methods when forcing oaths of loyalty in villages and intimidating people with solicited thumbprints.

Challengers silenced

Koul Panha of the Cambodian Committee for Fair and Free Elections(Comfrel) says that this year the National Election Committee, with the help of CPP-affiliated Village Mayors 600.000 names were removed from the electoral lists. He suspects this massive intervention may be related to the nearly one million youthful first-time voters who are more critical of the government than the older generation. Before the 2007 local elections, several opposition party candidates and activists were killed. There have been no deaths so far in this election campaign, but there have been a number of arbitrary arrests of opposition politicians. "Alarm bells should ring when politicians like opposition SRP MP Tuot Saron are arrested under dubious circumstances," says Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch: "This strategy of silencing challengers is tailor-made for Hun Sen."

One of the world's longest-serving government leaders

The tradition-rich Funcinpec royal party, which currently governs with Hun Sen, is visibly weakening and may soon become irrelevant. Hun Sen had needed it when a two-thirds majority was still required to form a government. Then there is the Norodom Rannariddh Party, a splinter party of Funcinpec. Like the Human Rights Party of the charismatic Kem Sokha, it is more likely to damage the SRP of challenger Sam Rainsy than the People's Party. The party now dominates not only the radio stations, but also the seven television channels. Research by the Committee for Fair and Free Elections in Phnom Penh found that the CPP had 84 percent of the polling time, while the SRP had only 5 percent. However, in a country where 80 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day, political ideologies and democratic values play a very minor role. A recent survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) found that most Cambodians want to continue voting for the People's Party because they credit it with developing infrastructure such as building roads and bridges, expanding electricity, schools and telecommunications. Visible results Hun Sen can boast as one of the world's longest-tenured heads of government. Hun Sen's mockery of his opponent Sam Rainsy is correspondingly caustic: The latter had not even managed to build a single toilet in Cambodia.

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