Myanmar’s historic general elections in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party has come out on top offer valuable lessons for Cambodia, a quasi-democracy that has been ruled by a strongman prime minister for three decades, Cambodian political analysts said.
The observers said Cambodia should look to the results of Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election, in which the National League of Democracy (NLD) party has won a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament, as a possible outcome for its own general elections in July 2018.
Kem Ley, an independent social development researcher, said the NLD’s success showed Myanmar’s ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) the reality that voters have been unhappy with its leadership.
The elections and results are significant for Cambodians who hunger for change to think about their future even more than before, he said.
Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, plans to run for a fifth term as prime minister, in the country’s next general elections.
Myanmar’s elections have provided valuable lessons for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as well as for other opposition parties in the region, Kem Ley said.
“The struggle for democracy takes a lot of patience and a long time, and [we] must have constantly peaceful means,” he said.
Kem Ley, however, did not go so far as to speculate that the CNRP would win the elections, despite its widespread support among the people.
The NLD has sacrificed more than the CNPR has in Cambodia, he said, which resulted in voters trusting Aung San Suu Kyi as leader of the political opposition.
“Aung San Suu Kyi and the important [NLD] figures and activists have never fled their country, and for the most part they have stayed connected with their supporters in the country,” he said.
Ou Virak, president of the Future Forum organization and an observer of political developments in Cambodia, said the momentum of the NLD would inspire and motivate opposition party voters in Cambodia to continue making an effort to change their society.
Like Kem Ley, he said it would be difficult to foresee whether the CNRP might have the same success as the NLD because since Cambodia’s next election is more than two and a half years away.
“The political situation in Myanmar is as tense as it is in Cambodia, and actually even tenser,” he said. “The people of Myanmar, despite [an atmosphere of] fear, remained brave and courageous enough to rush to vote in very large numbers in a very daring manner in order to change the government. And I would like to offer my warm support and encouragement for the Cambodian people to do the same."
Pol Ham, acting president of the CNRP, welcomed the election results in Myanmar and said the takeaway for Cambodia was to implement a democratic process through elections.
“This election will change the history of Myanmar,” he said. “We want to see other countries, especially Cambodia, implementing democratic practices appropriately. Whatever party wins, [we would like to see] a peaceful transfer of power here as in Myanmar.”
‘Like the sky and the earth’
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), however, said the results of Myanmar’s elections would not have any influence on Cambodia.
He said Aung San Suu Kyi has come out on top in the Myanmar elections because she has the real interest of the country at heart, while CNRP leader Sam Rainsy was merely a “nationalist.”
“There is no way of linking the situation of Myanmar to that of Cambodia,” he said. “The opposition party in Cambodia is not so excited as to dream or speculate that it will win the elections in 2018 as Myanmar’s opposition party has done.”
“The situations [in Cambodia and Myanmar] are different, and the criteria and qualifications of the two countries are way different just like the sky and the earth,” he said
Cambodia’s last elections in July 2013 were marred by allegations of widespread irregularities after the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC) declared Hun Sen’s CPP the winner.
The results sparked several major demonstrations by CNRP against the government, calling for the prime minister’s resignation and new elections. The CNRP also boycotted parliament for a year.
Authorities responded to the rallies with violence in some cases, including a crackdown on CNRP-backed striking garment workers in January 2014 which left five dead after security personnel opened fire on the demonstration.
No balloting irregularities
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), who has been in Myanmar since Nov. 3 to observe the general elections, said Wednesday that he did not detect any balloting irregularities as had occurred in Cambodia’s general elections in 2013.
“The results of the elections were not much different from the results claimed by both parties, and the political parties had strong managers, while the results of the elections were collected by party officials in a more free and fair manner,” he said.
Election committees in each area and regional polling stations issued the voting results so that the political parties could obtain them quickly, he said.
“That is why Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was able to broadcast and distribute the unofficial results of the elections right away, even faster than the media and the Union Election Commission could,” Koul Panha said.
Aung San Suu Kyi told RFA’s Myanmar service on Thursday, however, that the NLD would file complaints about irregularities in advance ballots in several areas, among other problems.
Voting results from rural areas of Myanmar were slower because of a lack of technology and a polling system that was similar to that of Cambodia, he said.
There were neither any violence during the Myanmar elections nor any military movements, and the polls were well managed, he said.
“The polling places were safe because they reflected the way the process was organized and the election monitoring by observers,” Koul Panha said, adding that most of the volunteers who served as organizers were female teachers.
Reported by Yang Chandara and Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.