Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Cambodia pushes back at tyrant in election

  • Print

It is not surprising that Cambodia’s opposition party rejected the outcome of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, despite a strong showing. The opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, declared, "There are too many irregularities, with far-reaching implications." Election monitors reported that scores of people were turned away because their names were not on voter lists, and supposedly indelible ink to prevent fraud was easily washed off.

On top of this, systematic problems in the election process were reported, including campaigning by security officers for the ruling party and unequal access to the media for opposition parties. Moreover, Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister, was permitted to return to Cambodia only in the days before the balloting. Clearly, the country’s long-serving prime minister, Hun Sen, has not abandoned his authoritarian ways.

But it would be a mistake to write off the vote as just another day in Hun Sen’s 28-year rule, which has brought a certain stability to Cambodia along with his heavy hand. The outcome suggests that democratic awakenings are afoot, despite the odds.

In the previous parliament, the governing Cambodian People’s Party held 90 of the 123 seats, but after this election it will hold only 68 seats. The main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, appears to have won 55 seats, compared with only 29 that two now-merged opposition parties held previously. If these totals hold, the new balance of power will make it much harder for Hun Sen to amend the constitution, which requires two-thirds of the National Assembly, and give the opposition a larger voice on other matters.

Although Hun Sen has enjoyed strong support in the countryside, the vote underscored growing frustration with corruption and huge land concessions to Chinese and Vietnamese companies, which have benefited the prime minister’s allies. Cambodia’s economic growth has been rapid but has come with increasing tensions over wealth disparity.

According to a report in the Economist from Phnom Penh, the surge for the opposition may also mark a generational shift and the emergence of a powerful youth vote; those who were born as Cambodia’s civil wars were ending two decades ago are just now coming of age. Armed with smartphones and social media, they "went to the barricades" for the opposition. This tended to blunt the impact of government-friendly media.

Sam Rainsy stirred crowds with his calls for change and clear populist streak. He returned to Cambodia from Paris on July 19 after a royal pardon removed the threat of a jail term; he was convicted in absentia in 2010 on criminal charges that observers said were politically motivated. Sam Rainsy has called for an independent committee to investigate the polling irregularities. But at a news conference he correctly captured the meaning of the vote: "People came in great numbers to express their will and democracy seemed to move forward."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets defencemen ready to face adversity

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local- (Standup Photo). Watcher in the woods. A young deer peers from the forest while eating leaves by Cricket Drive in Assiniboine Park. A group of eight deer were seen in the park. 060508.
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


What's your take on the Jets so far this season?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google