Cambodia 1998 Elections
In July 1998, in the first national elections since 1993, the CPP won a plurality of votes. The electoral campaign and its aftermath were marred by protests, voter intimidation, and partisan violence, some of it government-directed. Despite such incidents, the formation of the new Government reflected the will of the electorate. Most international and domestic observer groups certified the election as acceptable.
FUNCINPEC leaders returned to Cambodia shortly before the 1998 National Assembly elections held on July 26, 1998. More than 93% of all registered voters participated. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won the majority of votes. However, it failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to form a new government. In those elections, the CPP received 41% of the vote, FUNCINPEC 32%, and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) 13%. Due to political violence, intimidation, and lack of media access, many international observers judged the elections to have been seriously flawed.
Tensions remained high and sporadic political violence occurred throughout a four month deadlock. Then, on November 30, 1998 a coalition government was formed between Hun Sen’s CPP party and Prince Ranariddh’s FUNCINPEC party, with CPP the senior partner. Following the formation of the government, the National Assembly and a newly formed Senate began operating; other donors returned to respond to Cambodia’s request for development assistance; and the Royal Government of Cambodia announced its intentions of embarking on a path toward reform.
The coalition Government formed in late 1998 between the Cambodian People's Party and FUNCINPEC, the two parties that won the largest number of votes and National Assembly seats in the 1998 election, achieved renewed political stability. The coalition agreement provided for roughly equal power sharing between the parties, with Hun Sen of the CPP as Prime Minister and Prince Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC as President of the National Assembly. The coalition agreement also provided for the creation of a Senate, which was formed in March with Chea Sim of the CPP as President. The Senate's function is to review and provide advice on the laws passed by the National Assembly; the National Assembly retains final authority over whether to modify legislation based upon the Senate's recommendations.
Although growing in influence, the legislature remained weak in comparison with the executive branch. The coalition Government appointed the provincial governors and their deputies, who generally are divided between the CPP and FUNCINPEC parties, as well as district officials. Commune level officials were appointed by the previous government; most of these officials are appointees from the previous regimes, the People's Republic of Kampuchea and the State of Cambodia. Elections for new commune councils were not held in 1999 as planned, and are scheduled for late 2000. The National Assembly has not yet enacted the communal election law or commune administration law.
Cambodia's first commune elections, held in February 2002 to select chiefs and members of 1,621 commune (municipality) councils, also were marred by political violence and fell short of being free and fair by international standards. The CPP further consolidated its power in 2002, when the country held its first local (commune) elections in more than 30 years. As a royalist party, FUNCINPEC has relied on peasants’ loyalty to the king rather than strong grassroots organization, and it was unable to compete effectively with the CPP whose leaders had run local government since overthrowing the Khmer Rouge in 1979. The campaign was fraught with violence and intimidation; 15 opponents of the CPP were assassinated, but none of the CPP’s candidates were killed. The CPP won 68% of all commune council seats, and controls 99% of the councils. FUNCINPEC won only 20% of all seats, while the Sam Rainsy Party won 12%.
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