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Cambodia 2003 Elections

National Assembly elections in July 2003 failed to give any one party the two-thirds majority of seats required under the constitution to form a government. The voter turnout for the July 27 National Assembly elections was approximately 83 percent. The CPP won 73 seats in the elections, while FUNCINPEC won 26 seats and the SRP won 24 seats; however, the political parties could not reach the two-thirds majority needed to form a coalition government. At year's end, the former Government continued to operate in a caretaker status pending the formation of a new government.

A political stalemate ensued which was not resolved until July 2004, when the National Assembly approved a controversial addendum to the constitution in order to require a vote on a new government. The National Assembly then approved a new coalition government comprised of the CPP and FUNCINPEC, with Hun Sen as Prime Minister and Prince Norodom Ranariddh as President of the National Assembly. The SRP, with support from various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), asserted the addendum was unconstitutional and boycotted the vote.

All election observer groups, including two local NGOs, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia and Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia; the International Republican Institute; the Fund for Reconciliation and Development; the Government of Japan Election Observation Mission; and the European Union Election Observation Mission; took note of the improvements in the July elections over the previous elections but stated that they fell short of international standards for democratic elections. Politically motivated violence remained a problem; however, it declined from previous elections. Local NGOs reported as many as 33 killings that were possibly politically motivated during the year; however, the motivation for many of these crimes was unclear. The Government only took action against some alleged perpetrators of killings and addressed other misconduct inconsistently.

Technical problems with the registration process and preparation of voter lists effectively disenfranchised many citizens. There were also incidents of voter intimidation by local officials. The NEC failed to establish a credible process to resolve election complaints, including charges of political intimidation, gift-giving, vote-buying, and procedural irregularities. The appointment of NEC members by the MOI was not transparent and left the NEC open to charges of political influence by the ruling CPP.

There were improvements in media access for registered parties, and open political debate and multi-party debates were televised nationally for the first time; however, electronic media coverage still heavily favored the ruling CPP. Some NGOs and political parties alleged that membership in the dominant CPP party provided advantages, such as gifts or access to government emergency aid. There were no limitations on political participation in traditional society; however, Mohanikaya Buddhist sect leader Tep Vong, who was believed to be pro-government, published an edict urging monks not to vote in these elections. As a result, there was low monk turnout on election day. The Government did not prohibit youth wings of political parties but also did not restrict the activities of the pro-CPP Pagoda Boys Association when it held counter-opposition demonstrations.

With time, Cambodian politics matured. Hun Sen became a bit more strategic in his thinking about domestic politics, while Norodom Ranarith increasingly factored himself out of the equation by his failure to modernize his political organization, while alienating friends and allies, and attempting to subsist on the fumes of diminishing royal influence. On October 7, 2004, King Sihanouk abdicated the throne due to illness. On October 14, the Cambodian Throne Council selected Prince Norodom Sihamoni to succeed Sihanouk as King. King Norodom Sihamoni officially ascended the throne in a coronation ceremony on October 29, 2004.

In February 2005, the National Assembly voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of three opposition parliamentarians, including SRP leader Sam Rainsy, in connection with lawsuits filed against them by members of the ruling parties. One of the parliamentarians, Cheam Channy, was arrested and later tried, while Sam Rainsy went into self-imposed exile. In October 2005, the government arrested critics of Cambodia's border treaties with Vietnam and later detained four human rights activists following International Human Rights Day in December. In January 2006, the political climate improved with the Prime Minister's decision to release all political detainees and permit Sam Rainsy's return to Cambodia.

In February 2006, prior to the annual meeting of foreign aid donors toCambodia, the Hun Sen government pardoned Sam Rainsy, Chea Poch, and Cheam Channy and the National Assembly restored full parliamentary immunity to them. Defamation and other criminal complaints against seven prominent critics of the government were dropped. Chea Poch and Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia in August 2005 and February 2006, respectively. In February 2006, the National Assembly passed a law allowing a party to form a government and pass bills with a simple rather than two-thirds majority. In March 2006, Prince Ranariddh resigned as President of the National Assembly to protest the change in voting rules and in August 2006, reached out to Sam Rainsy.

Following public criticism by Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh resigned as President of the National Assembly in March 2006. He later broke with FUNCINPEC and founded a new party, the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP). In 2007, Ranariddh was convicted of corruption by a Cambodian court and fled to Malaysia to avoid imprisonment. In October 2008, he received a royal pardon and returned to Cambodia. Shortly afterward, he announced that he was withdrawing from politics. However, in December 2010 Ranariddh announced plans to re-enter politics, and the Nationalist Party reverted to its former name, the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), with Ranariddh as its leader.





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