Election Observation Report on the General Elections for the 5th Mandate of the Cambodian National Assembly

作者:anonym 发表时间:2014-1-3 16:02:07

China Non-Governmental Delegation of Election Observers for the Cambodian Election[1]

General elections were held in Cambodia on July 28, 2013 for a new session, the 5th mandate,[2] of the National Assembly in order to elect members of parliament and to once again form a representative government. The Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC) arranged for the China Non-Governmental Delegation of Election Observers, a delegation formed by the World and China Institute, to be a part of the IOEM[3] that was providing oversight over this round of elections. The elections served to enrich the observers’ knowledge of international elections and substantial information was gleaned from the process. The following constitutes our understanding and views of the elections and serves as our election observation report.

I. Observing the Cambodian elections: goals and methodology

A. Goals for observing the Cambodian elections

The primary goal for the Cambodian election observers organized by the World and China Institute was to gain a better understanding of what an election system should look like from the perspective of institutional and legal frameworks, as well as how such a system should operate. In this regard, we found the content involved to be substantial. The reason we chose Cambodia to be the country at the focus of our election observation was to achieve the following goals.

(1) We could observe a relatively good election system.

Elections began to be held in Cambodia in 1993 under the direction of the United Nations. It was therefore assumed that the elections would meet, or at least partially meet, international standards from the standpoint of the election system in place. However, international criticism of the Cambodian elections actually revealed a significant difference of opinion on whether international standards were largely adhered to; some leveled harsh criticism whereas others believed the elections were carried out relatively well. Criticism notwithstanding, it is important to consider that elections have continued in Cambodia over the last 20 years and have proceeded extremely well since their start in 1993. When elections first began, FUNCINPEC[4] emerged as the winner, but the CPP,[5] with its close ties to Vietnam and control over the military, was not content to cede power based on the election results. The CPP used the military to pressure FUNCINPEC to share power—a fact unrelated to the functioning of the underlying election system—therefore the IOEM affirmed that the elections were fair and free. Not long after, Hun Sen, of the CPP, employed various political maneuvers to gradually regain political control, which raised cries of election rigging against the CPP. The IOEM began to increasingly lose interest in the Cambodian elections and with that came fewer international observers to provide oversight. Nonetheless, Cambodian elections have remained, generally speaking, relatively fair and free.

(2) We could observe an East Asian country experiencing an emerging transformative political change towards democracy as well as evaluate the role that elections play in this transformation.

By international standards, Cambodia would not be considered a democratic country, but rather an authoritarian one transforming into a democratic one. To understand the process of democratic transformation, it is of the utmost importance to consider the following questions: How will political power be used? What role will civil society have in political development and what role will they play in elections? How will the election system keep pace with the development of democracy and how will they change together to serve as an important political system? And finally, what role will elections play in the process of democratic transformation?

Observing the election process allows us to improve our knowledge about how developing countries undergo democratic transformation. It also gives us a clearer understanding of how an election system should be designed and applied, as well as what an election system that meets international standards should look like. This knowledge will be beneficial to future reforms to and the democratic transformation of China’s election system.

B. Methodology for observing the Cambodian elections

There are two types of election observations: the first involves observing the voting process wherein the IOEM arrives in the country to be observed prior to election day and is only concerned with the voting activities on the day of and a few days leading up to the election. The second is long-term observation, which involves arriving in the country to be observed a year or so before the election to gain an understanding of the long term political changes, allowing a much clearer picture of the election and the political changes at hand. Qualitatively speaking, long term observation is an excellent methodology. This would be particularly true for the World and China Institute’s election observation delegation, since it could provide an ideal opportunity to engage in the long-term observation of a country in transition and could greatly enrich our election knowledge and our understanding of democratic change. However, such an undertaking would be a difficult thing to accomplish in this case because the World and China Institute is unable to sustain a long-term observation. Therefore, we had to implement a practical methodology wherein multiple short-term observations had to serve the same purposes as a long-term observation as much as possible. Specifically, three short-term observations were used in place of a long-term approach for the Cambodian elections, separating the election process into three phases. Although each short-term observation occurs in a limited timeframe, the process can be viewed sequentially as a single long-term observation with distinct phases. This is a pragmatic approach for international election observers who, being unable to engage in long-term observations, may at least view the shorter parts together as a whole. We designated the three observation phases as follows: the voter registration and enrollment phase, the campaign phase, and the voting phase. The World and China Institute’s China Non-Governmental Delegation of Election Observers utilized this method and observed these three phases of the Cambodian election in cooperation with the Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC). The YCC was responsible for our contacts and arrangements for observing the Cambodian elections. The first phase occurred in December 2012, the second phase was set for June 2013 and the third was in July 2013.

In order to ensure comprehensive objectivity during our election observations, we maintained contact with the National Election Committee of Cambodia (NEC). The NEC provided us with detailed information on Cambodia’s election laws and provided explanations to the questions we raised. Except for in Phnom Penh, each time we conducted election observations required travel to other areas to do on-site interviews. On these occasions it was necessary to go to the local election committee of that province or khum (sangkat) as well as get in contact with the political parties. We also got in touch with many provincial sub branches of political parties in addition to their central party offices. We visited pro-ruling parties and the opposition party as well as smaller parties who had candidates on the ballot but no information listed as to what seat they were running for. We were particularly interested in these smaller parties, who might receive just a few votes, and hoped to ascertain why they were running, whose interests they represented and how they got on the ballot. Cambodia enjoys a flourishing civil society and there are a great many NGOs, a number of which were involved with the elections, including organizations for electoral research, election observation and election training. During each phase of the election observations we made sure to contact organizations like these and through them gained an understanding of Cambodia’s election process. We also gathered further information on the progress of Cambodia’s elections by visiting the foreign NGOs involved.

In the final phase of the election observations during the voting process, we split into two groups to observe the final campaign and balloting processes in two provinces. After the election, personnel from our election observation delegation sat down to compare notes with one another, discussing what they saw during the election, what problems occurred, how to explain the election results, and what sort of improvements could be made to the election system and legal framework. We then completed an election observation report in accordance with IOEM standards.

II. Cambodia’s basic political situation and election background

A. Brief political history of Cambodia

Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia and was home to the Angkor civilization between the 9th and 15th centuries. In 1863, Cambodia was subjected to colonization by France, and was later seized by the Japanese during World War II. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, Cambodia once again fell under French control until finally declaring complete independence on November 9, 1953. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Prince Norodom Sihanouk served as prime minister until March 1970 when he was deposed as head of state in a coup led by groups loyal to Lon Nol, who took advantage of Sihanouk being away on state visits to the Soviet Union and China. The Khmer Rouge, with support from China, seized power in April of 1975 and in the following three years under Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia endured one of the darkest periods in history. The result of this modern totalitarian reign of terror was the murder or starvation of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians, nearly 1/3 of the population of Cambodia. A splinter group[6] of the Khmer Rouge united themselves with Vietnam and in January 1979, their leaders Heng Samrin and Hun Sen seized back power with the support of the Vietnamese military and recaptured Phnom Penh. In July of 1982, the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea was formed with Prince Norodom Sihanouk serving as premier. Cambodia was restored as a constitutional monarchy in 1993 with Norodom Sihanouk once again becoming king. In May of that year, Cambodia held their first national general election with the assistance of the UN, whereupon Prince Norodom Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC and Hun Sen of the CPP served jointly as first and second prime ministers, respectively. Elections for the National Assembly continued again in 1998, 2003, and 2008, revealing a Cambodia that was beginning to stabilize politically and rebuild its economy that had been devastated by war. The CPP won a decisive victory in the 2003 National Assembly elections, maintaining their power with Hun Sen as Prime Minister, a result which has been repeated up through the general election of the 5th mandate of the National Assembly in July of 2013.

Cambodia now consists of 20 provinces and 4 administrative municipalities,[7] with each province being further divided into counties (srǒk), whixh are further divided into communes (khum[8]). Administrative municipalities are divided into districts (khan), which are then divided into quarters (sangkat).

B. Cambodia’s election system

Cambodia’s election system consists of both indirect and direct elections. Direct elections are used to elect members of parliament for the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament of Cambodia, as well as for local council members at the khum level (in rural areas) and the sangkat level (in urban areas). The Parliament of Cambodia is a bicameral legislature, with members of the Senate being elected indirectly. The provincial and khum-level leaders are also elected indirectly. For this reason, the people of Cambodia view the direct election of members of parliament for the National Assembly as a truly significant general election since they have the power to directly decide who may serve. The general election is therefore the most important election in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s constitution stipulates that elections for the National Assembly occur once every five years with the results of the election determining seat distribution. The party winning the most seats forms the cabinet and produces Cambodia’s prime minister and other important cabinet officials. As a parliamentary system, Cambodias cabinet members must be drawn from members of parliament.

The seat distribution of the Cambodian National Assembly is determined by the population of each province and city and consists of 123 members. The province with the most seats is Kampong Cham, which has 18 seats, with the lowest number of seats available per province being 1.

Cambodia boasts a multi-party system and political parties may be formed freely. However, not all political parties are qualified to participate in parliamentary elections; they must meet certain threshold requirements to participate. Cambodia has dozens of political parties but only a few meet the requirements. In 2013 only 8 parties met the requirements to have their party listed on the ballot. The general election for the Cambodian National Assembly is a “party-based” system rather than a “candidate-based” system. Political parties may decide in which provincial elections they will participate based on their political strength. After making this decision, the party must put forth twice as many candidates as there are National Assembly seats available in a particular province. On election day, voters receive a ballot listing only the party name, which they use to directly vote for a party. Cambodia utilizes a proportional representation system wherein seats are distributed after the election based on the proportion of votes a party receives in each province. For each party, the election to a National Assembly seat is based on the order of the names on the candidate list. For example, Kampong Cham province has 18 available seats and the CPP will provide a list of 36 candidates to the National Election Committee of Cambodia. If after the election the CPP wins 8 seats in Kampong Cham province, the first 8 names on the candidate list will be elected to the National Assembly. If a representative from the National Assembly resigns or is otherwise unable to perform their duties as a member of parliament, replacements will be selected from the names on the candidate list.

Elections for the Cambodian National Assembly can generally be separated into the following four phases: voter registration and enrollment, candidate enlistment by the political parties, campaigning, and voting.

Voter registration and enrollment Cambodian law stipulates that every Cambodian citizen age 18 and above has the right to vote. The voter registration period for the 2013 general elections for the National Assembly lasted from September 1, 2012 to October 12, 2012.

Candidate enlistment by the political parties Candidate enlistment had to be completed prior to May 13, 2013. All parties participating in the election had to provide enlistment documentation to the NEC as well as the full list of candidates running in each province.

Campaigning The campaign period lasted from June 27, 2013 to July 26, 2013 during which political parties could legally apply to hold rallies and run television ads. July 27 was the deadline on which no political party could engage in campaign activities or advertising of any kind.

Voting July 28th was the national election day with the polls open between 7:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. during which voters could cast their votes at their designated polling stations. After the votes were cast, poll workers tallied the voting results at the polling station under the supervision of election monitors. The vote count was then displayed outside the polling station. Election data was first compiled and sent to the CEC (Communal Election Committee) and then the CEC provided a report to the PEC (Provincial Election Committee), after which the PEC provided another report to the NEC (National Election Committee). After compilation of the data by the NEC, a preliminary report of the election results was published. The official results were later announced by the NEC.

III. Basic situation regarding the 5th mandate of the Cambodian National Assembly

In June of 2012, Cambodia held its local-level elections, their only local-level direct elections, which were the khum (rural) and sangkat (urban) council elections. Among the few main political parties running, the ruling CPP overwhelmingly swept the election, while the few opposition parties such as FUNCINPEC, the Norodom Ranarriddh Party (NRP), the Human Rights Party (HRP), and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) all had very poor showings and received few votes. An election observation delegation organized by the World and China Institute was able to observe this round of elections, which occurred one year before the general elections for the 5th mandate of the Cambodian National Assembly. In a way, these elections served as the opening skirmish for the general elections with each party learning what they should do in the general elections the following year, leading to massive changes in Cambodian politics.

After the khum (sangkat) elections, the curtain rose for the general elections of the Cambodian National Assembly.

The political changes began first and foremost with the reorganization of political power wherein the opposition parties began to merge once they had an understanding of their own political influence. The NRP and FUNCINPEC once again formed a coalition to become a new FUNCINPEC party, which took advantage of the prestige of the revered King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, by having his daughter, Princess Norodom Arunrasmy, serve as party chairperson. The primary opposition parties in Cambodia are the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP). As the long-standing opposition party, the SRP counts among its power base middle class and urban dwellers, while the HRP represents the working class. Although the HRP is a relative newcomer, their power base continues to grow due to rapid economic development in Cambodia and numerous instances of government reclamation of peasant lands, both of which have resulted in increasing dissatisfaction among the working class. Not surprisingly, the HRP performed relatively well in the 2012 local elections. As the main opposition parties, the SRP and the HRP joined forces to form the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) in hopes of being competitive against the ruling party.

In the general elections for the National Assembly, 8 national political parties met the requirements to participate in the election and received approval from the NEC. The order of the parties, listed 1 through 8, are as follows: the Cambodian Nationality Party, FUNCINPEC, the Democratic Republican Party, the Cambodian People’s Party, the Khmer Economic Development Party, the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, and the League for Democracy Party. Each party proclaimed their position on the ballot was auspicious. Per Cambodian election laws, each party was required to pay a deposit of $3,700 USD. The deposit was refundable unless the party was unable to achieve 3% of the national vote or was unable to win a single seat in the National Assembly.

In reality, only 3 parties had a chance of winning in the general election, the Cambodian People’s Party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party and FUNCINPEC. A brief overview of the party histories are as follows:

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP): The forerunner organization of this party was the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party, established on June 28, 1951. In October of 1991, the party held a special national delegation wherein the party name was changed to its current form, new political guidelines were formed and a new party constitution was created, which shed all references to communism and socialism. The party promoted multi-party democracy and a free market economy. Chea Sim was selected as chairman, Hun Sen as vice chairman, and Heng Samrin as honorary chairman. After the 1993 general elections, the CPP adapted to the circumstances and supported restoration of the constitutional monarchy and held power in a coalition with FUNCINPEC. When the CPP emerged victorious in the 1998 general elections, Hun Sen became Prime Minister. During the 2002 local primaries, the CPP won the majority of the khum (sangkat) level leadership positions. The party won 73 seats in the National Assembly in the 2003 general elections, later on winning 90 National Assembly seats in 2008 with Hung Sen continuing as Prime Minister. In domestic affairs, the CPP advocates political stability, focuses on economic development and poverty reduction, and seeks to establish a country based on the democratic rule of law. In foreign affairs, the party seeks independence, peace, neutrality, participation in the Non-Aligned Movement, supports the establishment of a new international political and economic order, advocates cooperation within Southeast Asia, reducing the gap between the rich and the poor, improving regional cooperation, and protecting regional peace and prosperity. The CPP attaches great importance on maintaining friendly relations with neighboring countries as well as developing good relationships with larger countries like China, Japan and France, as well as proactively building relationships with the US and other Western countries.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party: The Cambodian National Rescue Party was formed from a merger between the number 1 and number 2 largest opposition parties, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party, with Sam Rainsy from the SRP serving as chairman (in absentia) and Kem Sokha from the Human Rights Party serving as vice chairman. The Sam Rainsy Party was originally founded as the Khmer National Party on November 9, 1995, later changing its name to its current form in 1998 with Sam Rainsy as party chairman. The SRP promotes freedom, democracy and human rights, seeks to defend national sovereignty, territorial integrity and revert territory ceded to neighboring countries back under its control, as well as solve illegal immigration. The party also hopes to eradicate poverty and corruption, develop a free economy, and improve the standard of living. The party is very influential among Cambodian intellectuals, workers, city dwellers and young students. The party also advocates republicanism, is against the constitutional monarchy, but in recent years their positions have undergone some change. In the 1998 general elections, the SRP won 15 seats in the National Assembly and 7 in the Senate, but refused to participate in the government, becoming the National Assembly’s opposition party. During the 2002 khum level primary election, they won 13 khum (regional) level leadership positions. In the National Assembly general elections in 2003 they won 24 seats and later won 26 seats in 2008. The Human Rights Party was founded on January 17, 2007 with Kem Sokha as party chairman, who had previously established the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and served as its director. Kem Sokha was arrested and later imprisoned in the Prey Sar Prison in 2005 for criticizing the government and was released on January 17, 2006. On October 3, 2012, the Ministry of Interior formally approved the application to merge the SRP and the Human Rights Party to form the Cambodian National Rescue Party, the largest opposition party in Cambodia.

FUNCINPEC: The forerunner to this party was the “National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia(which was shortened to the acronym FUNCINPEC from the French name for the party Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif) and was established by Norodom Sihanouk in 1981, who also served as party chairman. The party changed to its current name in 1992 and Keo Puth Reasmey became party chairman. FUNCINPEC won 58 seats in the National Assembly in the 1993 general election with Prince Norodom Ranariddh serving as first Prime Minister. The party won 43 seats in 1998 with Ranariddh taking on the role of President of the National Assembly and later won 26 seats in 2003. In 2006, the Norodom Ranariddh Party split away from FUNCINPEC, with both parties winning only 2 seats in the 2008 general election. FUNCINPEC and the former Norodom Ranariddh Party merged in August 2008, the unified FUNCINPEC then went on to participate in the National Assembly elections in July of 2013. In March of 2013, FUNCINPEC held a special party delegation to nominate Princess Norodom Arunrasmy as the new party chairperson and announced that the party would continue their cooperative relationship with the CPP to form a unified government. FUNCINPEC believes in the philosophy of Norodom Sihanouk, domestically advocates democratization of the government, economic privatization and maintaining the constitutional monarchy. In foreign affairs the party advocates independence, peace, neutrality and participation in the Non-Aligned Movement, believes in establishing and maintaining friendly relations with every country and like-minded political party, and seeks a peaceful resolution to territorial disputes with neighboring countries.

On September 3, 2012, the National Election Committee of Cambodia (NEC) officially announced that the voter registration activities for the elections for the 5th mandate of the National Assembly would be held from the 1st of September to October 12, with voter registration ending on October 13, 2012. The data revealed a total of 9.6 million registered voters, of which 830,000 were new voters. Fifty-four percent were young people between the ages of 18 and 35. In March of 2013, three election observer organizations, the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Neutral & Impartial Committee for Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) and the Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) completed a survey of the 2012 electorate. The survey found that while approximately 82.9% of the population were eligible to vote, 10.4% of this electorate were “ghost voters.” Another 9.4% of eligible voters had their eligibility revoked for no reason. The Cambodian National Rescue Party requested that election day be postponed due to these issues so that voter lists could be comprehensively reviewed, but the NEC refused.

Norodom Sihanouk, known as the “King-Father of Cambodia,” died on October 15, 2012 in Beijing, China. Protests that were being led by political parties became mourning processions with millions taking to the streets to mourn Sihanouk’s passing. Remembrance of the king spurred confidence and hope that FUNCINPEC would win more seats in the National Assembly.

On July 13, 2013, Sam Rainsy requested a pardon and with the assistance of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s official report, led King Norodom Sihamoni to grant a pardon to Sam Rainsy for the March 1, 2011 supreme court judgment no. 32 and the September 20, 2011 intermediate level court judgment no. 84. This allowed Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia without fear of imprisonment. On the day of Sam Rainsy’s return, July 19, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets from the airport to the Cambodian National Rescue Party headquarters to enthusiastically welcome him home.

The campaign advertising period for this round of elections lasted from June 27 to July 26, every day from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Campaign advertising was put on hold from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. the following day so as not to affect people’s rest. All campaign advertising activities were ended on July 27.

Election day was held on July 28, 2013. Cambodia’s 19,009 polling stations were open to voters from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Preliminary results showed that a total of 5.4 million Cambodians voted, a voter turnout of 54%. Of the 123 available National Assembly seats, the Cambodian People’s Party won 68 seats, the Cambodian National Rescue Party won 55 seats, and FUNCINPEC won no seats. The CPP received 49% of the vote while the Cambodian National Rescue Party received 44%.

A chart of the relevant election statistics is as follows:

A comparison of the votes and seats won by the ruling party (CPP) and the main opposition party (CNRP)


National Assembly seats available

Ruling party (Cambodian People’s Party)

Opposition party (Cambodian National Rescue Party)




26 (Sam Rainsy Party) +3 (Human Rights Party)




55 (Cambodian National Rescue Party, a merger of the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party)

Lost 22 seats

Gained 26 seats

18% decline

21% increase

CPP vs. CNRP National Assembly seats by province







Kampong Cham





Phnom Penh










Prey Veng




















Kampong Spoe





Kampong Thom





Siem Reap





Banteay Meancheay





Svey Rieng










Kampong Chhnang










Krŏng Preah Sihanouk





Koh Kong





Krŏng Paĭlin





Mondul Kiri





Preah Vihear





Stung Treng










Oddar Meanchay





Krŏng Kep








These results show that support for the ruling party has slipped significantly while support for the opposition had increased considerably. Urban areas constituted the primary support for the opposition while rural areas continued their support of the ruling party. There is not much of a discrepancy between voter support and distribution of the seats, i.e. the ruling party’s capture of 49% of the vote while holding 55% of the seats and the opposition’s capture of 44% of the vote while holding 45% of the seats is fairly close; this phenomenon reflects a fundamental change in the political structure.

IV. Election observation findings

Our election observation included three distinct phases and our findings from each phase revealed numerous problems. Besides our own observations, we also referenced election reports from other organizations.

A. Observation of voter registration

The development of voter registration for parliamentary elections

Cambodia held its first elections for the Cambodian National Assembly’s 1st mandate in 1993. At that time, only two witnesses were required for authentication, such that even I could have registered to vote because I speak Khmer. A total of 5 million people registered to vote in 1993. New registration for voters aged 18 and above was conducted for the parliamentary elections held in 1998 and was based on the 1993 registration information. It was then discovered that foreign citizens (predominantly Vietnamese) were registering to vote but the National Election Committee of Cambodia lacked the manpower and budget to resolve this issue. For the 2003 parliamentary elections, voters received a certificate which could then be marked by election officials to show that the person had registered to vote. This method was used to remove 2 million ineligible voters. The registration methods used in 1993 and 1998 were no longer used for the 2008 parliamentary elections, which began to conduct voter registration with identification cards, passports, residence permits and birth certificates.

Rules on voter registration for parliamentary elections

Cambodia’s current election laws only require someone be 18 years of age before election day and be a Cambodian citizen who resides in the khum (sangkat) where they will cast their vote to be eligible to register. There are several groups who are not eligible: people who are in prison, people who have lost the right to vote due to a criminal conviction, and people who are certifiably insane. The primary documentation required for registration are identification cards, but military identification cards, government official identification cards, public servant identification cards, police identification cards, and Buddhist monk/nun identification cards are also accepted. A Cambodian citizen working abroad may apply for a residency permit and register to vote at a khum/sangkat provided they bring the residency permit, two photographs and two local witnesses.

Voter registration work is handled by the khum/sangkat secretary. Cambodia lacks the infrastructure of a central bureau of statistics and does not conduct a census. Because the identification card system is still in the implementation phase, Cambodia does not have a unified identification card system that uses a single identification number, making voter registration extremely difficult. To address this, election committees are required to carry out registration work annually between October and December. In addition to handling new registration for voters turning 18 just before the next election, the election committees also require every voter in their respective khum/sangkat to appear in person and check to see if their name is or is not present on the voter lists. If a voter does not show up to confirm their name on the list, the name may be erased and they will lose their eligibility to vote.

Within the voter registration period, registration is carried out in three stages:

Stage 1, the preliminary release of voter lists. The khum/sangkat secretary posts the voter lists at the khum/sangkat office and delegate local village leaders to serve notice to the populace that they must appear in person to verify their name on the voter list. People who find errors may apply for a correction. Cambodian citizens who will be 18 years of age prior to election day and whose names are not on the voter list may bring the relevant documentation and proof to apply to have their names added. People who have died or whose documentation shows they have moved to another part of the country will have their names removed from their local voter list.

Stage 2, the compilation and revision of voter lists. The khum/sangkat secretary reports all additions, revisions and removals to the provincial election committee, who then compiles and reports this information to the National Election Committee of Cambodia (NEC). After tech center workers at the NEC manually enter the information into a computer, new voter lists are printed out and sent back to the provincial election committees, and then on to the khum/sangkat.

Stage 3, the confirmation of voter lists. The khum/sangkat secretary once again reposts the voter list so the local village leaders can serve notice to the populace to appear in person and verify their name is on the list.

The voter registration process is open to all national political parties and anyone sent by domestic or foreign NGOs who wish to observe.

Judicial remedies are available to handle complaints filed by political parties or voters regarding election disputes. There are two types of complaints, one involves erroneous information such as a misspelled name or wrong address, and the other type being punitive filings such as if a voter is threatened while participating in an election, or if an election official[9] displays political bias. Voters may first lodge a complaint with the local khum/sangkat election committee or they may file a complaint with an election committee at a higher level. If they are dissatisfied with the result, they may ultimately escalate the complaint to the Constitutional Council of Cambodia. Election complaints must legally adhere to a detailed procedure and are subject to statutes of limitations; the related punitive measures are very severe. An election official[10] found guilty of wrongdoing faces fines of 2 million to 5 million Riels or may be removed from their post.

Voter registration for the elections of the 5th mandate of the Cambodian National Assembly

Cambodia held its elections for the Cambodian National Assembly’s 5th mandate on July 28, 2013 for which the National Election Committee of Cambodia set the voter registration period for September 1, 2012 through October 12, 2012. The NEC orchestrated the voter registration work, continuing on down through the provincial election committees in each province, and the khum/sangkat election committees of each khum/sangkat. The specifics of the registration work are the responsibility of the khum/sangkat secretary. The NEC extended registration for 1 extra day to October 13 due to flooda affecting the nine provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Spoe, Kampong Thom, Kandal, Preah Vihear, Pursat, Siem Reap, Krŏng Paĭlin, Oddar Meancheay, and 383 khum/sangkat.

On October 19, 2012 the NEC announced that 9,675,453 voters registered in 2012. Based on the law stating that each khum/sangkat must have one polling station per 700 voters, Cambodia had 19,009 polling stations each staffed with 6 poll workers, for a total of approximately 120,000 poll workers nationwide.

Chart of the Cambodian electorate for the elections of the 5th mandate of the Cambodian National Assembly


Total registered voters nationally

Percent increase from previous election cycle

1st Mandate (1993)


2nd Mandate (1998)



3rd Mandate (2003)



4th Mandate (2008)



5th Mandate (2013)



National electorate statistics from: National Election Committee of Cambodia

The NEC held a press conference on July 11, 2013 to report the results of their audit of the 2012 voter lists. During the conference, NEC Chairman Im Suosdey noted that no country in the world has 100% accurate voting lists and some countries do not compile voter participation rates based on the number of voters on a voter list. The NEC hired a private auditing firm to perform the audit of the 2012 voter lists at a cost of around $30,000 USD. The interviews of the 2,472 Cambodians of voting age in each of the 24 provinces and municipalities spanned 1 month to complete, after which the results were released. The audit revealed that 91% of eligible voters had registered to vote, a total of 2,236 people, while only 9% failed to register, a total of 236. The 2012 audit also revealed which provinces had the highest rates of voter registration: Preah Vihear with 97%, Kratié with 97%, Ratanakiri with 96%, Kampong Thom with 95% and Takéo with 95%. The provinces with the lowest rates of voter registration were: Krŏng Paĭlin with 85%, Siem Reap with 84%, Banteay Meanchey with 84% Krŏng Preah Sihanouk with 76% and Koh Kong with a mere 65%. The 2012 official voter count was 9,675,453 with women voters constituting 5,081,843 of the total.

On July 12, 2013 a representative[11] from the NEC attended a “youth forum” held by the Khmer Youth Association and revealed that for the elections for the Cambodian National Assembly’s 5th mandate, voters aged 18 to 35 would constitute around 54% of the electorate.

Problems we discovered

During our observation of the voter registration phase, the findings of our election observation delegation mirrored those of numerous NGOs that believed voter registration suffered from very serious problems. The two main problems were: 1. large numbers of “ghost voters” among the electorate, that is, names for voters who did not actually exist and large numbers of names that were duplicated; and 2. There were reports of voters and organizations who support the opposition party being subjected to harassment or who were not allowed to register because they had to register at the khum/sangkat, which are controlled by the ruling party. However, when our delegation mentioned this during interviews with provincial election committees and khum level election committees responsible for voter registration, they denied such a thing could occur and that the accusations were baseless and nothing more than rumors. After registration was complete, a prominent Cambodian NGO, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) submitted a report on their observations of the voter registration wherein their inquiry found that 16% or more of the registrations are erroneous. Reports by other NGOs turned up similar numbers. Going by Cambodia’s total registered voter count of 9 million or more, there may be in excess of 1 million “ghost voters,” a number large enough to sway an election.

Our methods employed to observe the election did not afford us the opportunity to analyze voter registration in detail. Nonetheless, we were astonished to see results such as these. While visiting Cambodia in June just before the election, we inquired about the registration issue to several NGOs, and they essentially acknowledged the problem. We sought an explanation when we visited the NEC and they admitted that voter registration is plagued with numerous problems and that it is possible that the number could be as large as was reported. However, the NEC said that they discussed the issue with these NGOs and hoped they would provide proof, but no organization has been forthcoming with their sources. The NEC therefore has no way to confirm these numbers. We also discussed this issue when visiting local election committees but they did not believe the disparity would be that large, rather they thought it might be between 8 - 9%.

Based on our understanding, these issues are primarily caused by the following reasons:

1. The voter registration program does not meet the stipulations of the election laws

On September 25, 2012 COMFREL made an announcement regarding the current state of voter registration and that they had discovered some irregularities. For example, some voters were able to register without having to appear in person, some sangkat government officials were not following proper registration procedure and were showing up late to work. On September 27, 2012 the Cambodian Sin Chew Daily ran the headline COMFREL: Voters Can Register without Showing Up, and reported on this issue.

2. The existence of “ghost voters”

A “ghost voter” is where there is only a name and the actual voter cannot be found. Three prominent Cambodian election observer organizations, including the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Neutral & Impartial Committee for Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) and the Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) conducted a survey of 4,893 people aged 18 to 45 in 9 provinces and 414 khum. Their survey found that 10.4% of voters were “ghost voters.” On March 3, 2013 the Cambodian Sin Chew Daily ran the headline Election Observers: Ghost Voters form 10% of the Electorate, and reported on this issue.

One independent election research scholar who spoke with our organization mentioned the ghost voter rate was 15%.

The director of the Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association in Kandal province spoke with our organization and mentioned that, “People die and their names are not removed or they move or for some other reason the head count stays on the list (the ghost vote) so we just have the name and there is no corresponding person.” He estimated that names left off the list, repeated names, and head counts only (ghost votes) were between 5 - 8%.

On July 26, 2013, a number of Cambodian NGOs that observe elections such as COMFREL (along with ADHOC, NICFEC, YRDP, CCIM, CCHR, CHRAC, NGO FORUM, API, CCC, CDP, CLEC, CPWP, PDP-CENTER, LICADHO, DHRAC, GAD/C, LWD, CISA, KYA, KID, DPA, KYSD, MVI, ICSO, TI/C, SILAKA, STAR KAMPUCHEA, HR VIGILANCE, VBNK, WMC, YCC, HRTF, CPN, IDEA, VSG, CCSP, KHARAM, FACT, MLOP BAITONG) released a joint announcement stating that in many places the voter number formulas exceed the number of actual voters and that the general public suspects the voter registration process may have been manipulated.

3. Voter names left off of the list

Our discussion with the person in charge of COMFREL, revealed that a COMFREL survey found 17% of voters had had their names not included on the voter list. COMFREL informed the NEC of this issue but the NEC pushed it back to the election officials, who in turn pushed it back on to the recorders to handle.

4. Repeated names on voter lists

Our discussion with the person in charge of the Communal Election Committee (CEC) revealed that Cambodia’s current regulations may result in duplicate names on voter lists. Cambodia’s current registration regulations state: if a voter registers in location A and then moves to location B, they may register to vote in location B as long as it is done so within the specified registration period. If the voter does not proactively report their move to location B to the khum secretary at location A, the khum secretary at location A will not remove that voter’s name from the location A voter list. This means that the voter’s name will appear on the voter lists of both location A and location B.

We interviewed Yim Sovann, spokesperson for the Cambodian Nation Rescue Party, who said that in worst case scenarios names may be repeated forty to fifty times.

5. Names removed from the voter list

Our interview with Yim Sovann of the CNRP also revealed that approximately 1 million supporters of the CNRP had had their names removed from the voter lists.

6. Voter registration documentation problems

NICFEC sent observers to participate in the voter registration work for this round of elections, wherein they noted the biggest problem was voters not having identification. Cambodia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs is very slow in processing documentation and is plagued with corruption problems. Obtaining identification should be free of charge, but some locations charge 1,000 Riels to expedite the process. Furthermore, in remote areas, the khum leaders only provide identification to voters who support the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) while intentionally making difficult for supporters of other parties to receive identification.

The spokesperson for the CNRP also noted that some voters possess identification that lacks photos, thumbprints or even official stamps.

On election day, we observed some voters coming to the polling stations without proper voter identification. They were told by polling station officials to obtain a temporary identification card issued by the CEC and then come back to vote. This shows that problems do indeed exist.

7. Problems with the distribution of election notices

The spokesperson for the CNRP further noted that election notices are distributed in the villages by village leaders, but a majority of supporters of the CNRP never received their voting notices.

8. Voter registration time: too far away from election day

The law stipulates that Cambodian voters generally register to vote annually during October through December, while parliamentary elections do not occur until July of the next year, with local khum/sangkat occurring a month before, in June. For the general election of the 5th mandate of the National Assembly in 2013, voters registered from September 1 through October 12, 2012 and did not vote until election day on July 28, 2013, a full nine months after they registered. This is clearly too large of a gap between registration and voting because many voters who would be of age to vote on election day are not of age during the registration period and therefore they may forget to register.

9. Registration is too frequent

Cambodian law dictates that Cambodian voters must register to vote annually during a registration period that on average only lasts 15 days and lasts 30-40 days in the year before a parliamentary election. During the voter registration period, voters who have already registered will have their names posted at the khum/sangkat office. Every voter, whether already registered or newly registering, must then appear in person to confirm the voter list is accurate, otherwise, his or her name may be removed due to the information on the list being inaccurate or he or she did not appear in person to confirm.

The development of the Cambodian economy has led to increasing numbers of rural citizens seeking work in the cities. Requiring these workers, who do not earn high wages, to return to their home villages every year to register to vote entails significant hardship for these people. In some cases these workers may be in their home villages during voter registration, but will be away working in the city on election day, making voting difficult. Although the law does allow for migrant workers to apply for residency permits where they work, in reality, the NGOs and scholars we spoke with overwhelmingly indicated that since many levels of government are controlled by the ruling CPP, voters who do not support the CPP often endure obstacles in obtaining residency permits, such that it is hard to find even a few local people who have managed to obtain them.

The impact of voter registration problems on the election

1. The impact on voter turnout

Data from the NEC report on the elections for the 5th mandate of the National Assembly revealed that while the electorate consisted of over 9.67 million people, only 5.17 million people actually voted, a voter turnout of 53%, which was a new low for parliamentary elections. Conversely, ghost voters and duplicate voter names may be the primary cause of this issue.

According to the Secretary General of the NEC, Tep Nytha, the primary factors contributing to low turnout for the elections for the 5th mandate of the National Assembly include: large numbers of migrant workers residing in Phnom Penh who did not return to their villages to vote, as well as disturbances created at polling stations by some voters that discouraged others from voting. The Secretary General did not deny the large numbers of duplicate voters on the lists as one of the primary factors behind the declining voter turnout.

2. The impact on the election

When complaints were filed by the opposition party or NGOs about the aforementioned problems, in many cases nothing was done. For example, voter registration is a burden for young migrant workers because registration is inconvenient and has associated travel costs. Because many young people support the Cambodian National Rescue Party, the party would have gotten more votes if current registration practices were fair. For example, in Takéo province the CPP and the CNRP votes were very close, and could have resulted in more seats for the CNRP.

Many of the khum and sangkat are under the control of the CPP. Therefore, there may be bias towards the CPP on the part of the khum/sangkat secretaries responsible for voter registration work.

B. Observation of the campaign phase of the parliamentary election

Overview of the campaign phase

The 2013 elections for the 5th mandate of the National Assembly were Cambodia’s first parliamentary elections carried out independently without assistance from the UN. The campaign period was from June 27, 2013 to July 26, 2013, lasting every day from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Campaign advertising was put on hold from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. the following day. All campaign advertising activities were ended on July 27.

On June 26, 2013, the day before the campaign period started for the 5th mandate of National Assembly elections, European Union representatives declared their hope that parties within Cambodia would cease using threatening and menacing rhetoric and instead should focus on discussing relevant upcoming national policy issues. The declaration sought to welcome and encourage Cambodia’s efforts to make the election campaign progress peacefully.

Assembly seats won by parties during Cambodia’s elections for the 4th mandate of the National Assembly

During the 1st mandate elections in 1993, FUNCINPEC won 58 seats, the CPP won 51 seats, the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party won 10 seats, and the Liberal Democratic Party won 1 seat.

During the 2nd mandate elections in 1998, the CPP won 64 seats, FUNCINPEC won 43 seats and the Sam Rainsy Party won 15 seats.

During the 3rd mandate elections in 2003, the CPP won 73 seats, FUNCINPEC won 26 seats and the Sam Rainsy Party won 24 seats.

During the 4th mandate elections in 2008, the CPP won 90 seats, the Sam Rainsy Party won 26 seats, the Human Rights Party won 3 seats, FUNCINPEC won 2 seats, and the Norodom Ranariddh Party also won 2 seats.

List of the political parties participating in Cambodia’s 2013 elections for the 5th mandate of the National Assembly

Party name

Ballot No.


Cambodian National Party




Democratic Republican Party


Cambodian People’s Party


Khmer Economic Development Party


Khmer Anti-Poverty Party


Cambodian National Rescue Party


League for Democracy Party


On June 20, 2013, the NEC sent out a press release stating the 7 of the nation’s provinces and municipalities were holding elections in which 8 parties were participating, another 14 provinces and municipalities were holding elections in which 7 parties were participating, and a further 3 provinces and municipalities were holding elections in which 6 parties were participating.

During the elections for the 4th mandate of the National Assembly in 2008, the CPP, the CNRP and FUNCIPEC won 90 seats, 29 seats and 4 seats, respectively. For the 3rd mandate khum and sangkat council elections in 2012, only 3 political parties won khum and sangkat leadership positions; the CPP won 1,591 seats of the 1,633 available positions nationwide with the remaining 42 seats being shared between the Sam Rainsy Party with 24 seats, and the Human Rights Party, which won 18 seats. Of the 11,559 council seats available nationwide, the CPP won 8,283 council seats, the Sam Rainsy Party won 2,155 council seats, the Human Rights Party won 800 council seats, FUNCINPEC won 160 council seats, and the Norodom Ranariddh Party won 53 council seats. There were 5 other little-known parties which all received too few vote to break past “0.”

For the 2008 elections for the 4th mandate of the National Assembly, the 10 provinces and municipalities with the most seats available were Kampong Cham, Phnom Penh, Kandal, Prey Veng, Battambang, Takéo, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Spoe, and Kratié with 71% of the 123 total seats available nationwide. In 2008, the CPP won 60 seats in the 10 provinces mentioned previously (about 67%), the Sam Rainsy Party won 23 seats, and the Human Rights Party won 3 seats (these two parties later merged into the CNRP), the combined seats totaled 26 for what would become the CNRP, or 29% of the available seats. Of the remaining 3 seats, 2 went to the Norodom Ranariddh Party (currently disbanded with the leaders returning to FUNCINPEC), and FUNCINPEC won 1 seat.

The 13 provinces and municipalities of Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kampong Cham, Prey Veng, Battambang, Takéo, Kampong Spoe, Kampong Thom, Banteay Meanchey, Kampot, Siem Reap, Kampong Chhnang, Kratié were areas won by the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, with the remaining 11 provinces and municipalities being dominated by the CPP.

Women candidates

In 2013, 168 women candidates participated in the parliamentary elections, just 19%, compared to 886 male candidates, according to research by CONFREL. Ms. Sonket Sereyleak, COMFREL’s Gender Equality and Education Coordinator, noted the CPP had 20 women candidates and the CNRP had 12 women candidates. She further noted that the major political parties in the elections for the 5th mandate of the National Assembly had no plans to increase the prominence of women in the political arena, whereas the minor political parties had women candidates representing over 50% of their candidates.

Our interviews conducted in Kandal province found that the CPP’s name list only had 1 woman candidate and the party did not know where she was ranked on the list. The CNRP in Kampong Cham province also only had 1 woman candidate and she was listed 24th out of 36 candidates.


The 8 parties participating in the election utilize marches, meetings, television debates, leaflets, voter outreach, and internet social media to share their party’s political ideals and basic policies and gain voter support.

The CPP has been in power for many years and has a very firm hold on power, which was shown with their considerable victory in the grassroots elections held the year prior. For this reason, the CPP’s primary strategy involves utilizing this grassroots government, the elected Khum/Sangkat officials, along with previously mentioned television and newspaper reports, to promote their message. As the ruling party, the CPP has a unique advantage when it comes to using national and private media. In fact, the three top leaders do not make appearances at CPP campaign events. We inquired about this with an official in Ta Khmao city in Kandal province, who explained to us that the three CPP leaders are so sure of victory they felt they did not need to make any personal appearances. In keeping with this practice started in 1998, Hun Sen announced on June 24 that he would not make any appearances, give any speeches or even cheer on the campaign from June 27 to July 26.

The opposition party’s approach to campaign strategy is clearly unlike that of the CPP and social media is used extensively in their campaigns. After Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia, the CNRP held continuous marches and meetings where CNRP Party Chairman San Rainsy and Vice Chairman Kem Sokha stood shoulder to shoulder. On the evening of July 26, 2013, the CNRP held a concert with the theme “dynastic change” at Democracy Square in Phnom Penh that attracted nearly 10,000 people. Before the concert ended, the people began shouting slogans like “regime change” and “out with the corrupt government.”

The CPP had the most posters festooning the avenues, roads and buildings in each city, khum and village. The CNRP had the second most posters visible with FUNCINPEC rounding out third place. Posters for the remaining 5 parties were seen only occasionally.

Primary political platforms of the parties

The general election platform put forward by the CPP consisted of their opinions on the following 11 guiding principles: “1. National unity and eliminating discrimination along party and religious lines; uphold Cambodia’s constitution, preserve the peace that resulted from the National Day of Victory of January 1, 1979[12], and continue to protect and build the homeland. 2. Preserve the CPP’s ability to build and maintain the national defense so that no matter the situation, the nation’s independence, peace, democracy and sovereignty will be maintained, especially in regards to good security policies in rural areas, and to help people create a life where they may live and work peacefully. 3. Preserve the constitutional monarchy as well as freedom, a multi-party democracy, the rule of law, protect social justice and equal rights, work to stop sexual crimes against minors and other acts of violence. 4. Keep Prince[13] Hun Sen as the current candidate for Prime Minister for the general elections of the 5th mandate of the National Assembly and for general elections thereafter; continue to carry out the open policies of the unified government, strengthen cooperation with each party and people from all walks of life and gather our collective strength to build and protect the independent activities of our nation. 5. Protect and improve the people’s right to freedom of the people; obey the constitution as well as the international laws of the United Nations and treaties with other nations, cooperate with humanitarian social organizations, and strengthen the promotion of good governance, the rule of law and the handling of affairs based on principles. 6. Improve the quality of public services at all levels to earn the trust of the people. 7. Continue to pursue a course of broad and thorough reform, including public administration and the strength of the armed forces, pursue judicial and legal reforms, anti-corruption actions, carry out the separation of powers at the grass-roots level of government, carry out land reform as well as fisheries, forestry, natural resources and environmental protection reform to ensure long term availability for use. 8. Continue to carry out the nation’s sustainable economic development, maintain an annual economic growth rate of 7%, equally share the results of economic growth, reduce poverty by 1% annually, continue to develop hydroelectric power, road improvements and human resources training, continue land grant benefits to be used lawfully by the people. 9. Protect the hard-won political achievements of the CPP’s three leaders, the party members at all levels and our nation’s people. 10. Strive to develop education, sanitation, culture, employment and socially beneficial enterprises in order to hasten the process of building the nation; improve protection for our national and cultural relics, protect our national image; make appropriate increases to the salaries of public servants based on the economic growth rate as well as increase the minimum wage for laborers; protect the rights of pregnant women, children, the disabled, and our nation’s young people; strengthen preventative social safety measures as well as provide timely disaster relief services. 11. Maintain neutrality and participation in the Non-Aligned Movement, promote good international cooperation, obey international laws as well as maintain friendly relations with neighboring countries to coexist peacefully and build long term peaceful borders; uphold the 1962 ruling by The Hague regarding Cambodian sovereignty over the temple at Preah Vihear, doing so will advance our nation’s strong contributions to development.”

The CNRP introduced the following 7 policy goals that focus on social welfare: Provide the elderly aged 65 and above with a subsidy of 40,000 Riels ($10 USD) per month. 2. Set the minimum wage for workers at 600,000 Riels ($150 USD) per month. 3. Set the minimum wage for public servants at 1,000,000 Riels ($250 USD) per month. 4. Guarantee stable agricultural product prices (set the price floor for the rice crop at 1,000 Riels/Kg.). 5. Provide free medical services to the poor. 6. Ensure young people have equal opportunities for education and employment. 7. Initiate policies to reduce prices for oil, fertilizer, electricity and reduce interest rates. Furthermore, the CNRP also introduced some ideas for political reform, primarily amending the constitution, setting term limits wherein in government leaders could only serve for two terms. The CNRP’s main election goal was to serve as the anti-corruption party and take down the corrupt ruling government.

FUNCINPEC’s primary guiding principle was pursue a policy of founding father Norodom Sihanouk’s philosophy with ethnic harmony. If FUNCINPEC were to win, the nation would return to the prosperity, progress, social tranquility, political stability, lack of corruption, and non-aggression of the People’s Pact time period[14]; Public servants, teachers and doctors would command high salaries. Elections[15].

Election goals

Based on our inquiries with a CPP candidate in Kandal province and our visit with a person in charge of the CPP of a county in Kandal province, they believed that the CPP’s goals in the 2013 parliamentary elections were to win 85-95 seats in the National Assembly. The vice chairman of the Kandal province branch of the CPP[16]expressed confidence that the CPP would win 8 seats in Kandal province in the election, compared to the 7 seats won in 2008. In mid-August in 2012, the mayor of Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh municipal chairman of the CPP, Kep Chuktema, while in a meeting to summarize the results of the khum/sangkat council elections for the 3rd mandate elections and how campaign work will be carried out for the 5th mandate general elections, noted that the Phnom Penh CPP will strive to win 8 or nine seats.

We also visited with the CNRP’s deputy press secretary, Kem Sokha’s daughter, who said that the expectations for the CNRP in the 2013 parliamentary elections consist of three potential results: First, do about as well as in 2008, which was 1/3, or 42 of the total seats; Second, win 5 seats; Third, win over half of the seats.

During our visit with the husband of FUNCINPEC’s Party Chairperson Norodom Arunrasmy and former Chairman of the party, Keo Puth Ramsey, he mentioned that the goal of FUNCINPEC was to win seats at least numbering into the double digits, 10 or above, for the 2013 parliamentary elections. FUNCINPEC’s Party Chairperson Norodom Arunrasmy expressed confidence in winning 12 National Assembly Seats and among the 24 provinces, she believes FUNCINPEC is in a relatively good position to win seats in 12 provinces.

Campaign slogans

If an election slogan must be clear, concise, and motivate the electorate, the CNRP’s slogan was the most successful in this regard. It was simple, clear and motivational: “Change or no change? Change!”[17] Furthermore, it catered to the common sentiment held by the people that the government needed to change. The slogan spread quickly and our observation delegation heard it chanted everywhere we went. Facing pressure from the CNRP, the CPP came up with the slogans: “Change or no change? No change” and later, “No change, what are you going to do?” but by comparison, the CNRP’s slogan was more popular.

The Cambodian election campaigns were nowhere near as intense as they could be, which is primarily due to being “party-based” rather than “candidate-based” elections. In this system, each party merely provides a large list of names, which do not appear on the ballot; only the names of the parties are listed. There is little need for them to make appearances or meet with the electorate since the candidates are not the focus; the party’s participation is all that counts. For example, the CPP uses an image that only shows 3 people and has been used for over 20 years, making it appear that the election promises nothing new. The opposition party does the same, using only the images of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha. This election revealed to us that while the CPP’s parades and rallies were packed with people and held at large venues, the events themselves lacked enthusiasm. However, we found a different story for the CNRP. After his return to Cambodia in just the week before election day, Sam Rainsy immediately got involved in campaign activities where his presence thrilled CNRP supporters, boosting enthusiasm and excitement at each venue.

Topics of contention

1. The voter registration issue. Cambodian NGOs involved with elections, international NGOs and election observers all believe that voter registration is fraught with numerous problems but were unable to produce conclusive evidence thereof. The election committees admit there are problems, but not as severe as claimed, and the CPP denies there are any problems at all. Election discussions were abuzz with this issue, which was good for the CNRP and put pressure on the CPP.

2. The Sam Rainsy voter eligibility issue. Besides the voter registration issue, the other significant topic of conversation is the issue regarding the CNRP party chairman, Sam Rainsy, and his eligibility to vote. At the end of 2009, Sam Rainsy escaped a prison sentence by going into exile abroad. In 2010, he was convicted and sentenced in absentia to 11 years in prison by a Cambodian court for alleged forgery, spreading false information and defamation charges. The NEC removed Sam Rainsy’s name from the list of eligible voters due to this ruling. Cambodian law stipulates that someone ineligible to vote is also ineligible to run in an election, therefore the NEC was correct in taking action in this regard. However, the crucial issue for the CNRP was whether or not Sam Rainsy’s voter eligibility was restored upon receiving a royal pardon. The NEC’s take on the issue is thus: there is no way for Sam Rainsy re-register because the registration phase has already ended, therefore he is not eligible to vote.

3. Attacks against Kem Sokha. Premier of the CPP, Hun Sen, often denounces the CNRP’s alleged extremist policies as irresponsible and has sought an investigation into Kem Sokha’s alleged erroneous remarks about the Khmer Rouge’s violent regime and his comments that Tuol Sleng prison “was made up.” Hun Sen has demanded an apology from Kem Sokha. The CPP has also requested that parliament pass a law to “criminalize denial of Khmer Rouge crimes” and has used this issue to put pressure on the CNRP. A spokesperson for the CNRP has strongly denied that Kem Sokha ever said anything as described above and that the recording of it was tampered with and they have called upon the creation of an expert panel to examine the recording and expose it as a CPP plot.

The effect on the election of the pardon and return CNRP Party Chairman, Sam Rainsy

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni issued a pardon to Sam Rainsy on July 12, 2013. On the 19th of July, Sam Rainsy ended his 4-year exile and returned to Cambodia to participate in CNRP events for the parliamentary elections. Rainsy’s return provided a huge morale boost to the opposition party. Even though the NEC refused to allow him to run as a candidate in the elections and voters were unable to vote for him directly, his return according to NGOs, independent scholars, and CNRP officials we spoke withplayed a crucial role in helping the opposition parties gather strength, win over the electorate and motivate their supporters to vote.

The role of social media

Our interviews revealed Facebook to be the most widely used social network platform in Cambodia, with over 1 million users in Cambodia, the majority of which are young people. Facebook is not blocked or restricted by the Cambodian government and many users used the site to access news on the parliamentary elections. The opposition party clearly had more supporters on social media, most of whom were young. The opposition party used social media to organize campaign events which has helped garner support among young people and has been a game changer in gathering support where the ruling party has monopolized television coverage.

Comparing CPP and CNRP momentum on the day before the election

Cambodian election law stipulates July 26 as the last day campaign activities may be held. The three main political parties each held their largest final push campaign events on this day. Our observations revealed the CPP events in each province to be the most tightly organized with large numbers of participants, many of whom were similarly dressed, with numerous cars and motorcycles being used in the events. However, enthusiasm was lacking. We noted Hun Sen’s son’s participation in the rallies, but none of the other CPP leaders made any appearances.

The CNRP’s last campaign events saw the return of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha from abroad with rallies being held along the streets. Both men participated in parades that moved along Phnom Penh’s streets that afternoon among surging crowds at each venue and throngs of supporters taking to the streets. The CNRP supporters were clearly not as orderly nor similarly attired like the CPP supporters, but they represented all walks of life—easily identified by their modes of transportation, be it motorcycle cabs, crane trucks, pickups or farm vehicles—and were predominantly from the middle and working classes. The atmosphere bubbled with enthusiasm with merchants and residents lining every street to show their support, sometimes following the parade as it surged along. Just before the event we heard that people were offered $5.00 USD each to participate in the CPP campaign events, some of whom did, only to turn around and donate it to the CNRP. We took stories like this with a grain of salt as we did not witness them firsthand. However, we did observe young people at CPP-led final push events in Phnom Penh on the eve of the election who later showed up at CNRP rallies to show their support for the opposition party. The streets on the eve of the election were teeming with CNRP supporters, young and old, as well as many women supporters, who waved banners and chanted slogans.

Problems discovered in the campaign phase

Our election observation delegation discovered the following problems in the campaign phase of the elections:

1. Problems in the media

There is a widely held belief among Cambodian election observer groups that the Cambodian television stations are not balanced in their coverage of the elections and are biased towards the ruling party. Some observers have found that television coverage of CNRP events includes footage of shirtless participants trampling on lawns; this type of negative reportage is unnecessary. The television stations also give more time to CPP coverage and rarely show the CNRP in a positive light. With July 27 as the end date for all campaign coverage, the media should not have been broadcasting any election reports, yet numerous outlets covered the funeral of Hun Sen’s father from Hun Sen’s perspective, giving the impression it was campaign-related.

According to a reporter from The Cambodia Daily, the news coverage of Sam Rainsy’s return on July 19, 2013 was nearly nonexistent. The Cambodia Daily was the only outlet to report on it and it is an English-language newspaper.

Our interviews revealed that almost everyone discussed the public media bias in favor of the ruling CPP, except for the NEC and provincial election committees.

A spokesperson with the CNRP told us that the media is biased in favor of the CPP and that Hun Sen uses broadcast media to vilify CNRP leadership.

On July 26, 2013, a group of 40 NGOs lead by the prominent Cambodian NGO COMFREL released a joint report, An Assessment of the Pre-election day Environment for Elections of the 5th mandate of the National Assembly, which declared: “most media outlets were biased in favor of the ruling party.”

Reporters Without Borders released their 2013 Press Freedom Index on January 30, 2013, which showed the Cambodian press had dropped 26 places to rank 143rd out 179 countries in terms of freedom of the press, Cambodia’s lowest ranking in history. Since 2011, Cambodia’s independent and local news agencies as well as foreign media have been subject to investigations and control by the Ministry of Information. On October 1, 2012, Mam Sonando, an owner of an independent radio station, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state.

On June 25, 2013 the Cambodian Ministry of Information requested all domestic broadcasters to suspend all Khmer-language programming by foreign radio stations for the entire 31 days of the pre-election campaign period, the purpose being to “protect the favorable atmosphere of the campaign and general election period and prevent ‘foreigners campaigning in support of, or in opposition to a political party’[18] to affect public opinion. The ban was discussed extensively abroad and received criticism from the United States. On the evening of June 29, 2013, the Ministry of Information issued a press release stating that due to numerous requests, the Ministry would allow domestic FM radio stations to broadcast as usual in the coming days as well as rent airtime to foreign radio stations producing Khmer-language programming. However, the Ministry of Information required that all radio stations must follow the Ministry’s directives per the Broadcasting Programs about the Parliamentary Election.

A Jianhua Daily report from June 29, 2013 stated:

“During an interview with Radio Free Asia, director of the Behive Radio Station, Mam Sonando, revealed that the Ministry of Information had prohibited the Beehive Radio Station from running advertisements and refused the stations request to set up a rebroadcasting station, which severely limited the efficiency of the stations advertising, led to an acute impact on revenues and has put the radio station in dire financial straits. Sonando said, ‘Without domestic and international help, we may have to cease operations at the end of 2013.’”

A press official from the CNRP we interviewed told us that CNRP radio stations may only be located outside of Phnom Penh and there are very few of them. She continued, saying one CNRP member of parliament wanted to apply for a broadcast[19], but never received permission to do so.

During an interview with a CNRP spokesperson, it was revealed that the government does not allow the CNRP to own radio stations.

2. The use of government resources by the CPP during the campaign

The joint report An Assessment of the Pre-election day Environment for Elections of the 5th mandate of the National Assembly released by Cambodian NGOs on July 26, 2013 declared: “During the 30 day campaign period, the ruling party conveniently used public venues to hold their campaign events.”

A CNRP spokesperson told us that the ruling party used airplanes and national assets in their campaign.

3. Unequal distribution of resources

In the same NGO report from July 26, 2013 mentioned above, the NGOs declared that the ruling party not only used public venues to hold events, but also “restricted where opposition parties could place their signs.”

Similarly, there is an inequality in the resources available to each party, with the wealthier CPP having the ability to spend huge sums of money to place banners in public places. Our observations confirm this, as CPP posters were indeed much more prominent in public places than the materials belonging to other parties.

4. Government officials were not impartial

COMFREL held a press conference on July 12, 2013, during which they released a report of their findings from the investigation of the campaign propaganda and campaign events that occurred between June 27 and July 10. The report found 38 instances where government officials acted without impartiality that occurred in Kampong Spoe province, Siem Reap province, Preah Vihear province, Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham province, Battambang province, Kampot province, Prey Veng province and Krŏng Paĭlin. Twenty three instances were found where government officials and military police were involved with campaigning, occurring in Prey Veng province, Kampong Thom province, Kampot province, Ratanakiri province, Kampong Chhnang province, Battambang province, Phnom Penh, Kandal province, Preah Vihear province, Siem Reap province, Takéo, Prey Veng province[20] and Krŏng Kep city.

The joint NGO report released on July 26, 2013 declared: “Public servants, soldiers, and government officials participated in the election campaign and used administrative resources for whatever party they chose rather than for the party to which those funds were designated.”

5. Destruction of party signs

COMFREL’s report on their investigation of the campaign propaganda and campaign events that occurred between June 27 and July 10 mentioned above, discovered that Kampong Cham province, Kandal province, Kampot province, Banteay Meancheay, Prey Veng province, Oddar Meancheay province, Kampong Chhnang province, and Siem Reap province had a total of 29 instances where party campaign signs were destroyed.

6. Voter intimidation

The COMFREL report mentioned above found 18 instances of voter intimidation that occurred in Phnom Penh city, Krŏng Paĭlin city, Kampong Chhnang province, Oddar Meancheay province, Banteay Meancheay province, Kandal province, and Ratanakiri province.

During our interview with the CNRP spokesperson, he said that the CPP’s Hun Sen used a television broadcast to publicly intimidate voters, saying, “Do you want redemption or war?” There were several instances of intimidation, including when someone fired a gun into the air 7 times next to a woman’s face, a CNRP enthusiast received threats that his whole family was to be killed only to have his house set ablaze on July 26, 2013. In two other instances someone fired a gun at the CNRP party offices, and stones were thrown at the CNRP group during a parade.

The NGO joint report of July 26th also declared: “Some voters were coerced to vote for one party over another. Incidents of violence did occur during the campaign period, particularly at political rallies.”

7. Disruptions during campaign events

COMFREL’s report on their investigation of the campaign propaganda and campaign events that occurred between June 27 and July 10 also found 7 instances of disruption of campaign events that occurred in Phnom Penh, Prey Veng province, and Oddar Meancheay province.

A CNRP spokesperson revealed to us in an interview that the CPP would often play recordings of loud noises to disrupt CNRP events, a situation we experienced firsthand at the CNRP offices.

8. Bribery of voters

COMFREL’s report found 5 instances of gifts being provided to voters that occurred in Ratanakiri province, Kampong Thom province, and Kampong Cham province.

We had heard from locals that attendees of CPP parades and rallies received $5.00 US dollars per person per day and those who stayed until evening would receive additional funds.

The joint report An Assessment of the Pre-election day Environment for Elections of the 5th mandate of the National Assembly released by Cambodian NGOs on July 26, 2013 also revealed: “Corruption was evident at political events, particularly at political rallies.”

9. Religious groups were not impartial.

According to a June 4, 2013 Jianhua Daily report, chairman of Muslims of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Mr. Oknha Othman Hassan, went with his wife to Mona 5 center in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district to meet 1,050 members of the Russey Keo and Chruy Chongva district Muslim communities. During the ceremonies, Chairman Oknha Othman Hassan said that all Muslims must vote and that they should vote for the CPP. After the chairman’s speech, each person in the audience was given 10,000 Riels.

On the last day of the campaign, we attended a parade in Kandal province held by the CPP. We noticed numerous Buddhist monks and nuns in attendance sitting on the main platforms and performing blessings for the ceremonies.

10. Problems with the complaint handling process.

A spokesperson for the CNRP revealed to us in an interview that the CNRP had filed over 300 complaints during the campaign but almost none of them were handled.

Impact on the election

The issues we observed above may have had an effect on the election results in favor of the CPP. When the election results came in, the CNRP refused to accept them and believed that it was their party that had won an election victory, rather than the CPP. The CNRP’s protests and appeals were not unreasonable given how close the vote was.

C. Observation of election day

Before a discussion about observing polling stations, we must first mention Cambodia’s election observation system. Cambodia’s election laws have clear stipulations regarding the utilization of an election observation system during an election and welcomes foreign election observers to participate and contains regulations on the rights and responsibilities of election observers.

For this round of elections, the deadline for local election observer registration was August 18, 2013, while international election observer registration ended on August 25, 2013. There was a total of 20,587 individuals, both domestic and from abroad, who registered as election observers, of which 41 were international election observers who came from 9 international organizations or foreign embassies. It is our understanding that certain governments, including the US and several EU countries, did not send election observers because the Cambodia elections for the 5th mandate of the National Assembly would not be carried out in a “free and fair” manner.

From March 3 to April 2, 2013, the Cambodian office of the German Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) foundation held training workshops on campaign knowledge and leadership for the general election, which included party members from each of the three main parties, the CPP, FUNCINPEC and the CNRP. Training for CPP party members was held from March 25-26, the sessions for FUNCINPEC occurred on March 27-28, and training for CNRP was held April 1-2. The training was held at the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh and was conducted every day from 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. The aim of the training was to educate members from each party on how to send text messages for party events and included working in small groups and doing practice drills on how to win votes in an actual election. The media was also allowed to attend the training sessions.

In any election, the observation of election day should be the most important priority for election observers, and our group was no exception. We split our delegation into 2 groups, with one group going to Kandal province, which surrounds Phnom Penh, while the other group went to Kampong Cham province. These provinces are two of Cambodia’s more economically developed areas that are traditionally considered to have better-developed cities. Politically speaking, they are areas where the CPP holds an advantage and they serve as a stronghold for CPP votes.

Our observation of election day was threefold: first, we observed the opening of polling stations to see how preparation work was conducted and whether or not they conformed to the NEC’s standards. Next, we observed polling stations during typical voting times, including whether the voter list posted outside the polling station contained errors, and whether voters could find their names on the voter list. We also observed how orderly the polling stations were and whether voters were led through the process in an orderly manner, whether or not any voters were unable to receive a ballot, whether secrecy was maintained in the voting booths, whether voters dipped their fingers in indelible ink after voting, and whether election officials were present at the polling stations. Third and lastly, we observed the closing procedures, which included checking whether the polling stations closed promptly at 3:00 p.m., whether open vote counts proceeded according to regulations, whether voting results at each polling station were confirmed in a timely manner, whether the results of the vote count were entered on a form and properly filed and sealed as well as whether the vote tallies were safely sent to the khum election committee.

We referred to materials from international election observers as well as forms from China’s domestic election observers to better ensure the completeness of our work. We designed three separate observation forms to be used for the Cambodian election: Form A, used when polling stations open; Form B, used when polling stations are engaged in the voting process; and Form C, used after the polls close for the vote counting process.

From 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on election day, our two provincial teams observed approximately 40 polling stations by spreading out through provincial capitals and villages and creating 45 observation records.

The observations from our two teams in their respective provinces revealed that the voting and vote tallying stages of the election were rigorously, freely and fairly conducted. The polling stations were set up in a reasonable manner and voters could express their voting inclinations by voting in complete secrecy. It would be very difficult to engage in any sort of election fraud in the very orderly environment that is the Cambodian polling station.

We found election observers sent by political parties and NGOs in all of the polling stations we visited. The political party observers included officials sent by the CPP, the CNRP and, occasionally, FUNCINPEC. However, we did not find any observers from other smaller political parties. Most of the NGO election observer officials were sent by CAMFREL,[21] with a few officials from other organizations, but not many. This rigorous observation system allowed each of the political parties to supervise one another while NGOs could observe the parties and the polling stations. Cambodian regulations welcomed the participation of election observers sent from international organizations and foreign governments. However, not many international election observer officials were present for these elections. Most were from international organizations based in Cambodia with very few from foreign nations. The Cambodian government and the ruling party expressed confidence in the election observation system in place; Cambodia’s system can essentially prevent the type of election fraud perpetrated at polling stations.

Our observations upon entering polling stations is particularly worthy of note. We would find both CPP and CNRP election observer officials inside. The CNRP officials would stand close to the door, carefully scrutinizing voters as they signed in and picked up ballots after entering the polling station. The CPP observers would sit with the other election observers and tally the number of voters that came in.

Our observations revealed that the voting activities occurring inside polling stations were conducted in an orderly manner, but that there were a few problems. A summation of these problems is as follows:

When poll workers checked voter identification, they rarely checked the index finger of the voter’s left hand for indelible ink. CONFREL[22] claimed that the indelible ink could be easily washed away and there were posts on Facebook demonstrating how the ink could be removed. Voters who could not find their names on the voter lists did not receive much help from election officials; instead, the on-site NGO officials proved the most competent in providing assistance. Most of the polling stations had steps out front and lacked handicapped access, making it difficult for people in wheelchairs to gain entry. Some handicapped individuals found it difficult to mark their ballots alone and in secrecy. The addresses of the polling stations proved enigmatic with neighboring polling stations not having sequential numbers; the non-sequential numbers made it difficult for voters to find their polling station. Voters from the same family were sometimes assigned to different polling stations. A few voters arrived late to the polls and had hurried to arrive before the 3:00 p.m. closing time; nonetheless they were still allowed to vote by the khum election officials. Voter names were not carefully compared with the voter list to see if people had already voted. Not all polling stations took inventory of unused ballots. Some polling stations were dimly lit.

These types of problems are easily remedied. The key issue is that polling station workers did not receive enough training and their duties were rushed.

V. Institutional and legal recommendations

Our election observations led us to believe that some of the existing problems are inherent to Cambodia’s election system and that there is significant room for improvement starting with the institutional and legal aspects of the elections. We present some of our non-in-depth opinions on these issues below, the discussion of which served to improve our understanding of Cambodia’s election system and election laws:

A. Move away from the current “party-based, not candidate-based” system towards a dual system where both party and candidate are on the ballot

Cambodia’s current election system is a party-based system rather than candidate-based, where a participating party is responsible for providing a list of candidates to the electoral districts in each province. However, the candidates are elected based on the order of the names on the list; the candidates themselves do not even need to participate in the campaign or meet with the electorate. Under this system a political party needs only to meet NEC requirements at the national level and provide a list of candidates to participate in an election. The party’s candidates need not concern themselves with their connection to the voters in the electoral district nor be concerned whether the electorate identifies with them. It is left up to voters to trust the party. The result of this system at the national level is that the CPP relies on just the three main leaders of their party for their campaign signs. No hard work is required from the candidates and they have no incentive to build relationships of trust with the voters in their respctive electoral districts. Voters feel that they lack even a basic understanding of who the candidates are from their own electoral district and feel no need to get to know them.

Furthermore, under the current system, candidates who wish to be elected as members of parliament must be chosen by the party. We have learned of several people who wished to run, but to do so they had to pay fees to the party in order to be added to the candidate list. This results in candidates being beholden to the party rather than their constituents and has raised suspicions that money is being traded for power. In the end, a candidate should be responsible for their constituents and a system that does not conform to this ideal should be reformed.

We also observed another consequence of this system during this election: it removes any opportunities for independent candidates to participate. A citizen, no matter how talented or capable, must be a party member to run in an election; they cannot qualify as a candidate without party membership. Another problem arises when a party is no longer viable. As soon as that occurs the candidates of the party no longer have anything to stand on, are stripped of their qualification to run, and can no longer perform their duties. Generally speaking, most international political systems subscribe to the principle that any citizen has the right to elect others and be elected. If, on the other hand, a citizen must rely on a political party to be eligible to run, they will undoubtedly find ways to push back against such a system. Furthermore, the “party-based, not candidate-based” system seems very peculiar in practice; none of the parties have strong candidates to hit the campaign trail to bring in votes, just a few of a party’s top leaders are used in campaign pictures and rarely are any other party member shown. One might ask: where are the talented candidates? To make matters worse, voters never get a chance to know the candidates who are running in their province and later when these candidates are elected as members of parliament, they only represent themselves.

The most reasonable solution for Cambodia would be to have a system where both party and candidate were part of the election. The party could select the candidates, who would then display loyalty to the party and participate in campaign events in their designated electoral district. This way, when elected, they would represent the interests of their constituencies in parliament, having had direct contact with the citizens of their district during the campaign. An election system based on districts and candidates would also provide more opportunities for independent candidates to join in as well as provide more choices for voters at the ballot box.

B. Term limits are needed for the prime minister, two consecutive terms is sufficient

The opposition party’s strongest appeal during the election was to change the current no-term limit system for the prime minster of the government into a term-limited prime minister of cabinet system, the solution for which would be implementing a dual-position system for Cambodia that would last for a ten-year period. This is a genuinely reasonable suggestion for political reform since most nations around the world currently impose term limits in their systems of government. It is understandable that Cambodia, having only just emerged from the chaos of the Khmer Rouge period, might find a strong leader ruling for a long period of time an appealing idea in that it might encourage political stability. However, Cambodia has made significant progress in political stabilization and moving towards democracy; to persist in a government without term limits will only harm this progress.

C. Campaign finance laws must be enacted

According to current Cambodian campaign laws, there are no regulations on where political parties may source funding for campaigns. There are merely requirements that a campaign bank account be created and publically declared. There are no regulations regarding where, how much, and how such funding will be used. Consequently, the government and the people have no way of knowing where a party’s funding comes from and no way to provide oversight. This has an impact on the fairness of elections in that the ruling party can exploit their position of power to coerce businesses to provide funds, it increases the incidence of party corruption and also creates stronger collusion between the government and businesses. Given these potential problems, election committees and the people should understand that campaign finance laws must be enacted to publicize the sources of party funds, how much funding they receive and how it will be used. The vast majority of countries that hold elections already have laws like these on the books, therefore, it should not be overly difficult for Cambodia to enact new campaign finance regulations or revise and amend its current laws.

D. Revise the current voter registration and enrollment system

Cambodia received sharp criticism from many quarters during the election due to the voter registration and enrollment system. There appear to be significant problems with the system and it should therefore be changed.

Cambodia currently implements an annual registration system for voters, which wastes money and effort without having any beneficial effect, and instead results in a large number of “ghost voters.” For these reasons the system must be changed and the chief way of doing so would be to establish a national identification system, which would allow voters to register either where they work or where they reside. Cambodia could also use an electronic network to set up a unified voter registration database for the entire country to ensure that one registered voter would equal one vote, all the while providing instant access to registrant information for election officials, as well as electronic search capabilities. Secondly[23], the requirement for annual registration could be changed to registering only during an election year with no requirements to register in the intervening years. Cambodia’s two direct elections occur once every four years and occur very closely to one another, i.e. the local council elections and the National Assembly elections. It is therefore at least possible to change from the current annual registration requirement to just twice every four years. Thirdly, the registration of voter names should at least be allowed to occur up to a month prior to election day, which would make it easier for new voters who have birthdays just prior to election day to register and make the voters less likely to forget to do so. Under the current system, the deadline to register is at the end of the year before the election year (October) and even though the regulations state that new voters whose birthday’s fall before election day may register, many new voters forget to register because the deadline is so early.

With the current annual registration, if a voter forgets just once, there name is stricken and they cannot register. This method puts migrant workers, especially the young, at a serious disadvantage and is both inconvenient and costly. This is completely unnecessary. Alternatively, it would be appropriate to set aside a period of time to collect all registrations, which if properly advertised and subject to party and NGO oversight, would reduce erroneous and lost registrations. It would also work to postpone registration until the next election and just verify the changes that need to be made.

E. Improvements to polling station operations

Although Cambodia’s polling stations already operate within standards, our observations revealed opportunities for further improvement, which are as follows:

1. Polling workers must receive rigorous and complete training

Our observations revealed cases where some poll workers were not familiar with the data collection and ballot packaging procedures after tallying the votes, surprisingly referencing guidebooks during the actual process. This showed that training is not thorough enough in regards to procedural details.

2. The regulations for pre-balloting and post-balloting procedures should be more detailed to ensure the reliability of ballot and ballot box security

This should be covered by very concise statutory and regulatory guidelines with every step of the process specifically detailed and rigorously formulated. Our on-site observations showed relatively lax procedures in this regard with inconsistencies between various locations. For example, prior to the ballots being counted, they should be inspected by two workers and when a blank ballot is found, it should be confirmed and signed by both workers.

3. Ensure all polling stations have handicapped access

Most of the polling stations are located at schools, which have stairs and lack convenient access or assistance for people with limited mobility. Some polling stations lacked special ballots for the blind. These deficiencies must be remedied.

4. Before ballots are handed out, voter’s fingers must be carefully checked for the presence of indelible ink

We rarely witnessed poll workers carefully checking voter’s fingers to see if they had previously tried to rinse off the ink. This part of the process should not be omitted.

5. Voting booths should be 1.5 meters apart to ensure secrecy

If booths are too close voter secrecy becomes questionable. The layouts of polling stations should be designed to avoid this problem as much as possible.

6. The indelible ink in which voter’s dipped their fingers after voting became subject to scrutiny and controversy

Ensuring the efficacy of the ink must be a priority for the next election.

F. Utilization of the media should be fairer during elections

The use of media received strong criticism from Cambodians during this election and should be addressed. Several options include revising election laws by adding relevant statutes or pass special new laws on the media during elections that stipulate that national media resources are used by political parties in a fair manner. It is also possible to regulate the fair use of private media during elections, including regulations for new media.

VI. Conclusion: some thoughts on the Cambodia election

Our long-term election observations in Cambodia have allowed us to gain a better understanding of the progress of democracy and the election process in that country. Furthermore, our experiences have been beneficial in enriching our knowledge of the development of democracy in third world countries and the Asia region, which in turn helps us better understand how to view the development of democracy in China. It is from this perspective that we offer our conclusions from the Cambodian elections.

Firstly, an analysis of Cambodia’s election system:

(1) The election proceeded relatively well and, while not completely adhering to international standards, at least did not entirely disregard freedom and fairness. What we mean by saying it proceeded well is that it was based on an election framework of freedom and democracy, a framework that included multiple parties, campaigning between the parties and election laws that contained fundamental guidelines for the election. The voting and vote tallying processes generally met standards, polling station design—including confidential voting booths, ballot boxes and indelible ink—was very good as were the standardized work procedures of the poll workers and the universal election monitoring system.

The elections fell short of international standards in that Cambodia’s election system and election laws still contain many loopholes, including: the appointment of election committees and the corresponding effect on their neutrality, interference in the election by the strong ruling party, an imperfect voter registration system, the lack of a national electronic identification system to deal with a disorderly voter registration system, the lack of transparency in campaign funding, and the unfair utilization of the media. These issues were the primary cause of the repeated criticisms raised by domestic NGOs, political parties and international groups during the election.

Nonetheless, Cambodia’s overall legal framework for the election was relatively good. This was due to the framework established with the help of the UN during Cambodia’s first election and has been essentially upheld by subsequent Cambodian governments. From the perspective of progress in the election system however, little advancement has been made. While election laws have continued to be amended, substantive change has been minimal.

(2) Aside from some institutional and legal deficiencies in Cambodia’s election system, the reason why many complications arose in the election process was due to existing problems with Cambodia’s governing capabilities. For example, many blamed the government for the voter registration problems we observed, claiming that the government intentionally obstructed registration for those who did not support the ruling party, the goal being to assist the ruling CPP to an easy victory. If this were true, the ruling party would have won by a larger margin. However, the election results did not reflect this; the opposition party actually performed very well, winning 44% of the vote to the ruling party’s 49%, showing only a very small margin of victory for the CPP. How can this be explained? The best explanation is that Cambodia’s voter turnout was only around 53%, which indicates problems with voter registration as well as significant amounts of “ghost voters” which directly affected voter turnout. The previous round of general elections had a voter turnout of 71% compared to 53% for this round, showing a decrease of 18%. To say this decrease was due to a lack of voter enthusiasm is contrary to what we observed. We found voters in these elections to be highly motivated with a majority supporting the opposition party, the direct consequence of which should be increased voter turnout. Therefore, the issue of motivation does not explain the decrease in turnout. The answer to Cambodia’s registration problems is likely that the registration system is outdated. The government lacks both administrative efficacy and capability and has failed to keep up with voter registration policies needed by the public in large part due to Cambodia’s economic situation and an increasingly large transient population. These administrative failures are the reason behind the statistical drop in voter turnout. The government’s administrative shortcomings are quite noticeable in Cambodia’s poor public infrastructure, spotty road maintenance and chaotic city management. On the one hand, this is somewhat related to the low level of economic development, but is also caused by the government’s inability to act. Large-scale voter registration problems are thus unavoidable against this backdrop of a complex election combined with a government with poor administrative capabilities.

Despite these numerous problems, Cambodia is moving towards becoming more democratic and free. For example, for Cambodia to emerge from the Khmer Rouge era to hold national elections featuring multiple political parties was no simple feat and Cambodia has remained on this path for 20 years despite numerous obstacles. Hun Sen has been in power for many years and has become Cambodia’s political strongman, even saying himself during the election that the CPP’s power will remain firm and he would stay in office until he is 74, apparently taking a cue from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who also served into his seventies. For this reason, Hun Sen has resolved not to change the government’s rules on a limit of two terms, and will instead continue to serve straight through. Nonetheless, he has not pushed the country towards dictatorship, even allowing the pre-election return of opposition party leader Sam Rainsy to Cambodia, who then challenged the ruling party in the election. For whatever reason, Cambodia has maintained a multi-party system and general elections for these 20 years; elections that indeed may not meet international standards, but do manage to uphold basic ideals of fairness and freedom. That Cambodia was able to accomplish this difficult task while welcoming foreign election observers is noteworthy. Our observations of the election revealed that amid Cambodia’s election problems could be found the reasons they persist on a path towards freedom and democracy. In general, the primary reasons are as follows:

(1) Our observation of the election revealed a developing civil society in Cambodia. Numerous domestic NGOs were involved in the election activities, a result that our election observation delegation found very surprising. There were also several NGOs that specialized in election observation, such as COMFREL and NICFEC, two groups with whom we had the most contact. COMFREL is now a global organization, having become a member in the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL). These organizations typically perform election research and surveys between elections and then during elections become responsible for election training and supervision for the entire country as well as being in charge of organizing nation-wide election observers. Cambodia has close to 20,000 polling stations, making it impossible for just a few NGOs to cover all of them with election observers. To account for this, the NGOs that specialize in elections contacted other non-election NGOs to provide training to their members so that the non-election NGOs could serve as election observers throughout Cambodia. This collection of organizations willing to do this work became Cambodia’s national network for election oversight.

In addition to the election work itself, the governmental oversight—and especially election committee oversightthat resulted from election observation proved to be very significant. Election oversight began with voter registration, and the NGOs involved worked quickly with other groups after registration was complete to release an investigative report on the registration process. The report strongly criticized the registration process, to the point that the NEC admitted that the report was basically accurate. The phenomenon of social involvement in election oversight, training, knowledge sharing, and the legal system provides assurance that Cambodia will remain on the path to more freedom and fairness.

(2) The high level of openness towards the international community will contribute to Cambodia’s elections remaining free and fair. The development of democracy in Cambodia in the post-Khmer Rouge era has occurred under the guidance of the international community, especially the assistance and supervision provided by the UN. Cambodia’s democratic progress has meant increasingly less UN involvement as time goes on, but overall assistance provided by the international community to promote democracy in Cambodia has not diminished. Cambodia’s political and democratic progress has flourished in this environment of openness towards the international community. Our observations revealed that the ballot boxes in the polling stations were provided by the Japanese government and the indelible ink used by voters after casting their ballots was donated by the Indian government. Numerous other foreign NGO’s were involved, including the most well-known, the International Foundation for Election systems (IFES). Although the IFES lacks a branch office in Cambodia, they assisted the government in providing election system and legal improvements. Most NGOs were from the United States, Europe, and Japan and provided training and promotional work all while maintaining very good communication with the Cambodian government and domestic NGOs. In turn, these international NGOs were treated well by the Cambodia government. During the election, the government welcomed international governments and NGOs to participate in election monitoring. Our China Non-Governmental Delegation of Election Observers was also welcomed by the national and local governments in Cambodia and was warmly received. This shows that Cambodia has an open outlook regarding their election issues and internal political problems; this is also why Cambodia has enjoyed 20 years of elections and democratic progress.

What most profoundly affected us during our observation was how Cambodia now faces important historical changes both to its economyas it prepares to enter a new economic eraas well as to its political system, with the nation preparing to leave an era of conflict marked by struggles between political factions and begin anew as a two-party system. Another view from a larger perspective is that Cambodia’s progress in elections and democracy is beginning to align with that of the international community. While worldwide democratic trends show democracy halting and even losing ground in the Middle East, Southeast Asia appears to be ready for a new wave of world democracy. This new wave may very well begin in the region, which includes Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia, and may experience further democratic breakthroughs in the next few years. Myanmar has already undergone political reform with the dissolution of the military junta and an improved situation for the opposition parties where their participation in elections can no longer be obstructed; Singapore too has experienced breakthrough changes and has found a new political will for change with voters for the opposition parties possibly exceeding that of the ruling party, although the opposition still cannot win a majority in parliament. This has already compelled the ruling party to initiate large scale political reforms in Singapore; Malaysia saw opposition party support surpass that of the ruling party in elections this year. While still facing a significant disadvantage in parliament, the opposition parties in Malaysia may breakthrough in the next round of elections; Cambodia’s opposition party chanted “change” as their slogan, which resonated with young people and urban dwellers. The progress of democracy in these countries has largely been peaceful and is a result of incremental change over many years. The changes occurring in Southeast Asia are very different from the changes seen in the Middle East, which have been accompanied by violence. Rather, it is a reasonable and healthy democratic change that adheres to the original meaning of its etymon, democracy. The democratic changes in Southeast Asia, spurred by the people’s demands for political reform, will bring new energy to the world democratic movement. In addition to the four countries mentioned above, Vietnam and Laos, the most conservative countries in the region within the ASEAN framework, are due to face pressure to make significant changes. Our conclusion after observing Cambodia’s elections is that complete democratic change may not be far away in Southeast Asia, and Cambodia’s democratic progress will play a crucial role in the process.

VII. The significance of the Cambodian Election and its value as a reference for election reform in China

After observing the election in Cambodia, we were able to find aspects that could serve as a reference for future election reforms in China, which are as follows:

A. The importance of basic processes, laws and systems

Cambodia’s election proceeded comparatively well, and although it did not meet international standards for a free and fair election, the election nonetheless possessed a fundamental framework of freedom and fairness. Cambodia’s first elections were held just after the end of the disastrous Khmer Rouge era and were carried out with the help of the UN, assistance which guaranteed the goal of free and fair elections right from the beginning. The voting and vote tallying processes—activities that preserved free expression for votersas well as adherence to strict voting secrecy and a rigorous election observation system, helped safeguard freedom and fairness at the basic institutional and legal levels. From then on, Cambodia’s government has undergone massive changes. Granted, the ruling party’s interference in the elections has led to voter dissatisfaction, has limited development, led to numerous struggles, ignited social criticism, inspired opposition party protests and resulted in condemnation from the international community. However, it is crucially important to understand that despite these issues, Cambodia’s voting and vote tallying process have not been altered and have persevered for many years. What this means for the development of Chinese elections is that simply establishing a basic system of voting and vote tallying for polling stations would be a step forward, even without fulfilling the other conditions for free and fair elections. Setting up polling stations and related systems will be an important point of focus for Chinese election reform for the time being.

B. The neutrality of election committees

Neutral election committees are a core necessity for an election system. This issue became a point of contention in the Cambodian elections with both NGOs and the opposition party calling into question the neutrality of the election committees. This too will be an issue of vital importance to China as China’s election committees are unequivocally biased.

C. Elections must receive thorough oversight from civil society

In Cambodia, the power of the ruling CPP is such that they could potentially control the elections and Hun Sen could act as a dictator, but this has not been the case due to the development of a robust civil society. Cambodia’s civil society, being closely connected to the world’s civil society, has developed to the point where it can effectively provide oversight for elections and ensure that the ruling party does not become dictatorial, engage in large scale election rigging and remains apprehensive about even attempting to do so. Cambodia’s numerous election-related NGOs have performed just such a role and they serve as a hallmark for the progress of Cambodia’s civil society. Without such progress, effective election oversight would not be possible.

D. International support is crucial

We previously stated that the reason Cambodia’s elections have basically remained free and fair for many years is due to Cambodia’s political openness, which is a result of efforts by both the ruling party and civil society as well as the hard work of international NGOs. The level of political openness in Cambodia is almost inconceivable to the Chinese people with international NGOs being free to hold events in Cambodia while receiving a warm welcome by both the people and the government. Currently, this level of political openness is fundamentally impossible in China because China’s civil society is not sufficiently developed and due to restrictions imposed by Chinese government. The unwillingness to open up politically is one of the primary reasons why China’s election system lags behind.

E. Democratic progress as correlated with a strong society and the result of long term growth

Cambodia’s significant election changes and its potential to be the source of a new tide of democratic progress in South East Asia is a result of the long term growth of a strong society in the region. In essence, democracy’s success is a testament to the strength of the people superseding the strength of the state; it is the result of the antagonism between state and society. Furthermore, the development of a robust civil society is pivotal in defining the strength of a people. The Cambodian elections revealed that the development of civil society over the years has made the people no longer afraid of the government; the Cambodian people are emboldened to make their voices heard and express their own opinions. The opposition party’s slogan of “Change or no change? Change!” was chanted throughout Phnom Penh by groups that unanimously supported the opposition, namely the elderly, children, and women, a phenomenon that left a deep impression on our election observers. For China, political reform—including election reform—must be advanced by society pressuring the state to do so. From the perspective of the state, the Chinese government does not want or need political reform and it hopes that reform will remain impossible. The reason why elections have not progressed in China include rural elections becoming inconsequential and the suppression of independent candidates by the government. The Chinese government does not want any type of election reform and society is not strong enough to exert any kind of pressure on the government to compel it towards reform. These are the primary reasons democratic progress and election progress have lagged behind in China.

E.[24] Legal framework for elections must be established

Our observations found that Cambodia’s election law serves as a basic legal framework. However, the election law falls short of international standards for free and fair elections due to problems regarding voter registration, campaign financing and media coverage. The problems that have arisen cannot be effectively managed by the election law alone and therefore Cambodia must enact a coherent set of laws and create a more comprehensive legal system in order to achieve election reform. Cambodia still has a long road to travel before achieving these goals. China must also be mindful of the circumstances surrounding the Cambodia elections, for when the time comes for China to consider election laws, a corresponding legal system will also be necessary; merely adding amendments to election laws is not enough.

Observing the Cambodian election afforded us the opportunity to learn many new things and the foregoing is a simplified account of the knowledge gained. The election observation was a significant experience for the World and China Institute and will provide ample food for thought as we contemplate future elections in China.

[1] [Source text footnote] Participants in this delegation of observers include Li Fan, Gao Haiyan, Lei Tao Lu Zhimin, Liu Hong, Yang Jingfang, Meng Yuanxin, and Huang Xiaomin.

[2] is generally rendered as “session” in the context of legislature proceedings but “mandate” is a term specific to the Cambodian government.

[3] International Election Observation Mission

[4] Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif

[5] Cambodian People’s Party

[6] Probably the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS), although not explicitly stated in the source text.

[7] This information seems to contradict current sources of information regarding Cambodia’s administrative divisions. I have maintained the information as presented in the source text.

[8] Also spelled “krom” but “khum” is used throughout the source.

[9] 选举秘书, literally “election secretary,” is better rendered as “election official” as the term likely refers to election officials in general and not specifically to khum/sangkat secretaries, although they are probably included under this term.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Transliterated in the source as “迪彼伦” (di bi lun), the Khmer transliteration of this name is not available.

[12] Victory over the Khmer Rouge.

[13] Sources indicate this is an honorary title. The term has been maintained to better reflect the source text.

[14] 民盟 likely refers to the pact Sihanouk made with the People’s Republic of China and North Vietnam in 1965.

[15] Typo in the source text.

[16] Transliterated in the source as “兴落达那” (xing luo da na), the Khmer transliteration of this name is not available.

[17] "Dȏ min dȏ? Dȏ!” is the approximate Khmer romanization.

[18] This is a direct quotation, a partial translation for which was found here: Khy Sovuthy and Lauren Crothers, “Foreign Radio Broadcasts Banned Ahead of Election” The Cambodia Daily June 29, 2013, retrieved 12/7/2013.

[19] Possible missing character in the source text. I believe this should be “broadcast license” (广播证), not just “broadcast” (广播).

[20] Possible typo, repeated text.

[21] Typo in the source text. This should be “COMFREL.”

[22] Typo in the source text. This should be “COMFREL.”

[23] There is possibly some missing text in the source. There was no preceding (第一) “firstly,” which is stylistically obligatory in the source language.

[24] This is a typo in the source. This should be section “F.”