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Cambodia 2008 Elections

Cambodia's second commune elections were held in April 2007, followed by National Assembly elections in July 2008. In both cases, there was little of the pre-election violence that preceded the 2002 and 2003 elections. Both polls resulted in victories for the Cambodian People's Party, with the Sam Rainsy Party emerging as the main opposition party and the royalist parties showing weakening support.

The Assembly inaugurated in September 2008 was led by a coalition of the CPP (90 seats) and FUNCINPEC (2 seats). The SRP (26 seats) and the Human Rights Party led by Kem Sokha (3 seats) were in opposition. The NRP (2 seats) has announced its intention to merge with FUNCINPEC by 2012. The CPP-led coalition retained Hun Sen as Prime Minister, as well as most of the key leaders from the previous government, and all ministers were from the CPP. In May 2009, non-universal elections were held when commune council members chose representatives to district councils, city councils, and provincial councils, which would have administrative and budgetary powers at the local level.

Most observers agreed the national elections took place in an overall peaceful atmosphere with a process that was generally an improvement over past elections. There were reports of 17 killings of political activists, with NGO and international organization investigations coming to different conclusions and indicating that anywhere from none to seven of the killings may have been politically motivated.

Although some election day irregularities persisted, they were low in number and did not appear to affect the outcome or distort the will of the citizens. However, observers noted the elections did not fully meet international standards. Outside of the 30-day campaign period, the opposition parties' access to television broadcasting was minimal, and the CPP dominated the airwaves. While more radio stations broadcast a greater number of independent and opposition views, hindrances to their operations persisted. Access by voters to their polling stations was a problem in some areas of the country. A Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia survey showed that in 24.9 percent of all polling stations, five or more voters came to the polling station but failed to find their name on the voter list. The problem reflected difficulties with the Voter Information Notices, the reassignment of voters to different polling stations from one election to the next, and the deletion of as many as 57,000 legitimate voters (approximately 0.6 percent) during a 2007 voter list cleanup exercise.

Parties could register, and individuals were free to be candidates without restrictions. On July 30, the Supreme Court upheld a March 2007 Phnom Penh Municipal Court decision sentencing NRP president Prince Norodom Ranariddh in absentia to 18 months in prison and a 600 million riel ($150,000) fine on charges of breach of trust. The prince chose self exile during the election campaign and on election day. On September 28, the prince returned, and on October 2, he formally withdrew from politics. On December 6, the king appointed Prince Norodom Ranariddh as chief of high advisors to the king.

All major political parties had reasonable and regular access to the print media. All major Khmer language newspapers received financial support from political parties and were politically aligned. There were an estimated 20 Khmer language newspapers published regularly; the majority were considered pro CPP, and at least four newspapers were considered to support each of the other main political parties--the National United Front for a Neutral, Peaceful, Cooperative, and Independent Cambodia (FUNCINPEC), SRP, HRP, and NRP. Although the three largest circulation newspapers were considered pro CPP, most newspapers criticized the government, particularly on corruption and land grabbing. The prime minister, NRP President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, FUNCINPEC party leaders, and opposition party leaders frequently came under attack.

The government, military forces, and ruling political party continued to dominate the broadcast media and influence the content of broadcasts. There were eight domestic television stations and approximately 50 radio stations. All television stations and most radio stations were controlled or strongly influenced by the CPP, although a few were independent or aligned with other parties. In the months preceding the July 27 national election, major television stations were dominated by stories outlining the ruling party's accomplishments. Equal broadcast time was not given to opposition parties.

In May 2008 the Ministry of Information closed indefinitely Angkor Ratha, a private radio station in Kratie Province, stating it did not respect the terms of its government-issued license. Station owner Keo Chanratha was quoted as saying that the government shut down Angkor Ratha on grounds that, by its own admission, it sold broadcast time to FUNCINPEC, HRP, the League for Democracy Party, NRP, and SRP without prior permission, as stipulated in the license contract. During the 30-day election campaign, state television and radio stations made time available to all 11 contesting parties based on an equity formula. State TVK television also broadcast 10 multiparty debates. On the night before the July 27 national election, approximately 20 police officials and soldiers shut down the opposition-aligned FM 93.5 radio station after it broadcast a reading of Sam Rainsy's book about his political life. The Information Ministry stated that it closed the station because the broadcast violated a 39-hour preelection day ban on political propaganda. The station resumed broadcasting 11 days later after issuing an apology letter.

In 2009, the CPP-dominated parliament voted again to lift the parliamentary immunity of three members of the opposition, including Sam Rainsy, in order to allow civil or criminal charges to be pursued. Sam Rainsy was convicted in absentia and sentenced to ten years prison in January 2010 for his role in the removal of several temporary border markers on the Cambodia-Vietnam border, along with making statements deemed racially incendiary. He remained outside the country. A second SRP member was convicted of defaming the Prime Minister; after refusing to pay the court-ordered fine and exhausting all appeals, the court ordered the lawmakers salary garnished to pay the fine, a process which concluded in December 2010. The member began advocating for restoration of parliamentary immunity in January 2011. A third SRP member was ultimately acquitted on all charges.





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