Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Asia's Next Tiger?

Asia's Next Tiger?

Cambodia’s ruling party won re-election in an imperfectly democratic ballot July 27. Corrupt, impoverished, with high population growth and poor infrastructure, the country might seem a basket-case. Yet with Vietnamese backing and nearly 10 per cent annual economic growth since 2000, it may be turning into another Asian Tiger.

Cambodia is neither very democratic nor very well run. Its leader Hun Sen was backed by Vietnam when it overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979, and he has been prime minister since 1985. Cambodia ranks at number 162 on Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index, well below the threshold at which normal business becomes difficult. For example, a sale of land to foreign investors in 2007 seems to have benefited mostly the ruling elite.

Like its neighbour Vietnam, Cambodia is suffering an imported inflation problem due to rising food and fuel costs. The government’s solution has been to cease reporting the country’s consumer price index “to avert the possibility of disorder and turmoil".

Nevertheless, there are signs of progress. Cambodia has enjoyed economic growth of more than 10 per cent a year since 2000, led by its main export industry, garments. Its annual population growth has declined from 2.3 per cent in 2000 to 1.8 per cent, facilitating rapid economic growth by reducing the strains that high population growth places on education and infrastructure.

Cambodia’s public sector absorbs only 12 per cent of gross domestic product, its budget and payments are close to balance, and it expects to open a stock exchange in 2009.

Foreign investment is the key, as it has been in Vietnam, where it totalled 65 per cent of GDP in the first half of 2008. Cambodia permits 100 per cent foreign ownership in most sectors, and foreign investment is expected to double in 2008 from $US2.7 billion in 2007 (30 per cent of GDP), with China and South Korea the leading investors. Corruption and a lack of public sector transparency stand in the way. But with rapid growth in Vietnam, greater prosperity in Thailand, its other neighbour, and the US market open to its exports, Cambodia could be set to become an 'Asian tiger' in its own right.

For further commentary visit www.breakingviews.com

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Cambodia's Ruling Party Forms Coalition, But Says Royals Are Out

Cambodia's Ruling Party Forms Coalition, But Says Royals Are Out

Jul 30, 2008, 18:10 GMT

Asia-Pacific News

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has ordered the leader of its coalition partner, the royalist Funcinpec Party, to stand down, but will retain the coalition structure, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday.

He said the CPP would form a coalition after Sunday's landslide victory, which sees the CPP take at least 90 of 123 seats - 64 more than it's nearest rival, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).

Funcinpec plummeted from 26 seats to just two on latest preliminary estimates, but despite the CPP dominance, axing a coalition which has existed since the first democratic elections in 1993 would potentially cause deep political instability.

'Opposition figures who want to join the government have to do so Wednesday or lose out, and we know many do,' Kanharith said. 'The CPP also orders that current Funcinpec leader Keo Puth Rasmei and his wife Princess Arun Rasmei resign and Nek Bhun Chhay take over.'

Bhun Chhay, an army general with the reputation of being a military bulldog, a love of former king Norodom Sihanouk but no royal blood, will be the first non-royal leader of Funcinpec.

After UN-organized elections in 1993, current Prime Minister Hun Sen forced the victorious Funcinpec into forming a coalition with him, but the UN then dictated that half the police force and army should be Funcinpec, as well as numerous government positions.

The CPP retains that coalition to avoid instability, and because it says it is incompatible with the opposition SRP, which snared at least 26 seats at Sunday's polls and is the second most popular party in the country. Funcinpec was expected to comply.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cambodian Prince Loses Appeal in Embezzlement Case

Cambodian Prince Loses Appeal in Embezzlement Case

Source: PR-Inside.com

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - Cambodia's highest court upheld a guilty verdict against an exiled former prime minister on embezzlement charges Wednesday, effectively barring him from returning home to resume his political career.

Supreme Court Judge Chhim Sophal upheld a lower court's ruling last year that found Prince Norodom Ranariddh guilty of breach of trust and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. The lawsuit was filed by the prince's former colleagues in the royalist Funcinpec party, which he once led.

The ruling will make it difficult for Ranariddh, a once-influential national figure who is the son of former King Norodom Sihanouk, to stage a political comeback. Ranariddh was co-prime minister of the country from 1993-97.

His supporters say the lawsuit and ruling were politically motivated.
The Funcinpec party, which ousted Ranariddh as president in October 2006, sued the prince accusing him of embezzling some US$3.6 million from the sale of the party's headquarters in August that year.

Funcinpec cited the prince's alleged incompetence and frequent absences from the country as the reason for his ouster from the party.
In March 2007, a municipal court judge sentenced the prince _ who has been living in exile since before his removal from Funcinpec _ in absentia. It also ordered him to pay US$150,000 in compensation to the party.

After his ouster, Ranariddh formed the Norodom Ranariddh Party. The party took part in last weekend's parliamentary election and unofficial results, show it winning two seats in the 123-seat lower house of parliament.

His party issued a statement Wednesday saying the prince was innocent and condemning the final ruling as «senseless and unjust.

«The ruling was politically motivated. We are now looking for ways to bring him back to Cambodia,» Muth Chantha, the party spokesman, said without elaborating.
Ranariddh served as a co-prime minister with Prime Minister Hun Sen before the latter toppled him in a two-day armed clash in 1997.
Under Cambodian law, he will be barred from running for public office unless he serves at least two-thirds of his jail term or receives a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni, his half-brother.
Ranariddh is currently believed to be living in Malaysia.

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Flawed System Sullies Cambodia's Election

Flawed System Sullies Cambodia's Election

By Lao Mong Hay
Column: Rule by Fear




Hong Kong, China (UPI Asia Online) — Cambodia held a general election on Sunday, and while the National Election Committee was still gathering the election returns, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party already announced it had won 91 out of 123 seats, 18 seats more than in the last election and way ahead of its nearest rival, the Sam Rainsy Party, which had secured 26 seats.

The Sam Rainsy Party and three other parties that also won seats, according to the same announcement, quickly joined forces on Monday to denounce the results, charging that they had been “manipulated and rigged” by the ruling party. They cited “illegal and fraudulent practices” relating to “deletion of countless legitimate voters' names and artificial increase” in votes for the ruling party due to “illegitimate voters.”

The ruling party’s victory and the denouncement of it by the four non-ruling parties have come as no surprise. In fact this victory had been widely predicted even months before the polls. Some have cited the economic growth achieved over recent years by the ruling party and the electorate’s unity behind it in the face of Thailand’s recent encroachment on Cambodia as the main factors contributing to the win.

In fact, the ruling party’s victory should be attributed to the system of government it put in place when it was a full-fledged communist party in the 1980s. To this system was added a democratic veneer in 1993 when the country theoretically embraced parliamentary democracy, but it has remained basically intact and in firm control. The ruling party has utilized this system to get itself re-elected over and over since its defeat in the U.N.-organized election in 1993.

The ruling party has controlled all the state apparatus – including the National Election Committee, the judiciary, security forces, civil service and educational institutions – since the communist days. It has manned all important posts with its members, so that the state apparatus and the party apparatus are but one.

Such fusion can be seen in the proximity of the offices of the party, police stations and administrative offices, whose respective buildings are located next to one another in many provinces, districts and communities. Almost all village chiefs and heads of groups in villages are also members of the ruling party. All party cadres from top to bottom enjoy high social status, impunity and material benefits gained through illicit means.

Several months before the election, the ruling party was able to successfully tempt with such privileges thousands of members of the opposition parties, including some senior members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, to defect to it. The ruling party has proved very successful in enrolling members, so much so that just before this election one of its senior members claimed that his party had nearly 5 million members, and this out of just over 8 million voters in the country.

Through this extensive apparatus, the ruling party has been able to maintain firm control of the population. Members of each household must be registered in a police-issued family book and a residence book, and grassroots party officials must know each household and its members’ activities. Local party cadres who are also local officials can mobilize and induce the population to support the ruling party. They can also deny rival parties and even civil society organizations access to the population without prior permission. They can prevent, using force if need be, public meetings and training seminars organized by those parties and civil society organizations.

The ruling party has had a virtual monopoly and control of all the media, especially radio and television, on which the overwhelming majority of people depend for news and other information. It has been making use of this media year in year out, while its rival parties are deprived of it. Some press with limited circulation is freer, but the majority of newspapers are run by members or supporters of the ruling party, and it is rare that commercial companies dare put advertisements in newspapers known to be affiliated to any rival party.

The ruling party has been able to secure overwhelming resources for elections when it is in command of state resources and has a lot of support from private companies that seek favors for their business. Thanks to all these resources it has been able to buy votes though building social projects and giving hand-outs during election campaigns, and to fund other election expenses.

The ruling party has enjoyed all these privileges since there is no anti-corruption mechanism in place to take action against it. Furthermore, the National Election Committee also placed under its control has imposed no limit on donations to political parties and their expenses in elections campaigns. Nor has it verified and made transparent the accounts of all political parties. This system only favors the ruling party.

Last but not least, the police and courts of law which the ruling party also controls have acted more promptly and more diligently in criminal cases in which members of the ruling party are victims and members of opposition parties are suspected offenders than vice versa. Some months prior to the election, they showed only apathy toward reported threats and intimidation of activists of non-ruling parties, destruction of their signboards, and even the killing of some of them.

The system of government and social control which the ruling party has put in place and firmly controls leaves little room for free and fair competition among political parties, or for free choice among the electorate. This largely contributed to the outcome of the election, if it had not already determined it prior to the polling day. It also contributed to producing the irregularities which the four parties have used to claim that that election was manipulated and rigged by the ruling party.

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(Lao Mong Hay is a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. He was previously director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a visiting professor at the University of Toronto in 2003. In 1997, he received an award from Human Rights Watch and the Nansen Medal in 2000 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)

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Cambodia, Thailand Reluctant to Act in Border Standoff

Cambodia, Thailand Reluctant to Act in Border Standoff

BANGKOK (AFP) - Cambodia and Thailand both signalled their willingness Tuesday to stand down troops amassed along their disputed border, but neither showed any immediate signs of making the first move.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters that his country's troops were ready to withdraw, but indicated that Thailand would have to pull out first from the disputed patch of land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

"For us, there is no problem at all. The issue is that it is up to Thailand to decide to act. For us, (we are ready) any time," Hun Sen said in Phnom Penh.

"The problem is the timing and how long it will take the Thai side to have a political decision from the government," he said.

His comments came as a Thai foreign ministry official said the government in Bangkok may ask parliament for approval before withdrawing troops, which could delay the process by several weeks.

"Both countries need to pass their domestic legitimacy processes," ministry spokesman Tharit Charunvat told AFP.

Thailand's army chief confirmed that any withdrawal from the border area would take time.

"The resolution from the meeting between Cambodia and Thailand (on Monday) will help relieve tension and improve the situation," Anupong Paojinda told AFP by phone.

"Lowering the troops at the border, however, needs to receive an order from the government first."

But Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej sought to reassure the public, telling reporters: "The foreign ministry is talking to the military. Everything is fine."

The current uncertainty follows high-level talks on Monday aimed at removing up to 1,500 soldiers from the temple area and ending the two-week long dispute.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong met with his newly-appointed Thai counterpart Tej Bunnag in the northeast Cambodian town Siem Reap.

After about 12 hours of talks, the foreign ministers said they would ask their governments to redeploy the troops from the area near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, a decision which eased tensions on the border.

"The situation is now a little bit better than in past days. Soldiers keep their weapons in one place and are walking around," said Major General Srey Dik, commander of Cambodian forces in the disputed area.

"We hope that soon the troops from both sides will withdraw from the area," he added.

The ruins of the Khmer temple belong to Cambodia, but the most practical entrance begins at the foot of a mountain in Thailand, and both sides claim some of the surrounding territory.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute.

Cambodia had asked the United Nations Security Council to take up the latest conflict over the temple but suspended its request to allow the current talks to proceed.

The latest conflict has inflamed nationalist sentiment in both countries. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen's strong stance on the temple helped him win general elections on Sunday.

In Thailand, embattled premier Samak is threatened by nationalist protesters who have made the temple a core issue in calling for his resignation.

Both sides have toned down their rhetoric after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced concern about the conflict and called for a peaceful resolution.

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CAMBODIA: Polls Were Fair - EU Observers

CAMBODIA: Polls Were Fair - EU Observers

By Andrew Nette

PHNOM PENH, Jul 30 (IPS) - An attempt by Cambodia’s four main opposition parties to reject the result of national elections, in which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was returned in a landslide, has met with little support from local and international organisations monitoring the poll.

In a short statement released earlier this week, the four political parties called "on the public opinion and the international community not to recognise the results of the July 27, 2008 elections which were manipulated and rigged by the ruling CPP.''

Opposition parties argue the extent of CPP’s win reflects a campaign of intimidation, vote buying and dirty tricks orchestrated by the ruling party in the lead-up to the election.

They maintain CPP’s vote was further inflated on polling day by the deletion of many legitimate names from the voting list and the issuing of fraudulent ‘1018’ forms by local authorities controlled by CPP.

These forms are official documentation that voters lacking proper identification can submit to be able to vote. It is illegal under Cambodian election law for them to be handed out on polling day.

However, opposition calls of foul play have received little support from local and international election monitors, including a 130-member European Union election observation mission, in Cambodia since mid-June.

"I would say that on the basis of the provisional results published so far, CPP very clearly has a large majority and therefore any irregularities would have to be of a very large scale to invalidate the result," Martin Callanan, chief observer for the EU mission told the media in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

"While it is fair to say we have some evidence of irregularities these are not of such significant scale," he said.

Although an official seat count has yet to be released, Cambodia’s main poll monitor, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL), has estimated CPP won approximately 57 percent in the weekend’s vote, giving it roughly 90 seats in the 123-member National Assembly.

This is broadly in sync with CPP’s own projections released to the media earlier this week.

In is also in line with the expectations of local and international commentators who were predicting the ruling party would win big in last Sunday’s election.

According to COMFREL, the next largest party, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), secured 21 percent of the vote. The Norodom Ranarridh Party, Funcinpec and the Human Rights Party hovered under five percent each.

While describing the general atmosphere in the lead-up to the poll as an improvement on previous national elections, Callanan stressed it still "fell short of a number of key international standards for democratic elections.’’

Despite improvements in transparency, he said the EU mission noted a lack of confidence in the impartiality of election administration among stakeholders, and that all aspects of the election process are dominated by the ruling CPP.

Within hours of the close of polls on Sunday, opposition parties had raised what they believed where serious concerns about the validity of the process.

Approximately 200 disgruntled voters who found themselves struck off the voter list had gathered throughout the day in the compound of the SRP headquarters in Phnom Penh.

A SRP spokesperson said these irregularities including large numbers of people being deleted from the voter list and forged 1018 forms issued to pro-ruling party voters not on the voter roll, many of whom she said were "foreigners, not Cambodian nationals.’’

Speaking to IPS on election night, SRP’s leader Sam Rainsy claimed that the names of at least 200,000 eligible voters had been deleted from the rolls in Phnom Penh alone.

SRP has since handed out fliers on the streets of the capital claiming nearly a million people across the country were disenfranchised in Sunday’s vote although no hard evidence has been proffered to support this claim.

"I am aware of the comments of the opposition parties rejecting the results but I would encourage the parties to first use the complaint process established by NEC," Callanan said Tuesday.

Officials at the National Election Committee (NEC), the body responsible for overseeing the country’s elections, have said the deadline for complaints about the voter list had long passed and no action would be taken on the matter.

It is unclear what tactics the four opposition parties will now adopt to push their cause, although SRP has called a rally in Phnom Penh Wednesday to protest the result.

"The number of names removed on the weekend was no surprise to us because this is what we found in our audit," said Puthea Hang, Executive Director of Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC).

NICFEC is one of several organisations involved in a June 2008 audit of the voter list, which found approximately 590,000 names had been incorrectly removed from list or 0.7 percent of the total electoral roll.

"Every vote is important," said Tom Andrews, a senior advisor to the National Democratic Institute, which worked with NICFEC on the audit and on training observers placed in 378 of the country’s 1,245 polling stations.

"But we need to base our conclusion on the evidence we have seen in the audit and our observers did not show what has been suggested by the opposition,’’ Andrews said. "It showed that people had been taken from the list but that the number was small and there was no clear pattern."

NGOs maintain they alerted NEC months ago about these mistaken deletions but the election body refused to restore the names.

"It is regretful that NEC did not take the opportunity to reinstate those names when they had the chance," said Callanan.

While Callanan agreed the issuing of 1018 forms on polling day was "in clear contravention of the election law," EU observers had only "found a relatively small number of examples" of these being issued.

Most groups monitoring the poll agree the elections were an improvement on the last poll in 2003.

All groups welcomed the decrease in violence compared to previous polls.

There is also general agreement that the technical aspects of the country’s electoral process, including the ballot and counting, are steadily improving.

"NEC proved its ability to organise technically good elections with the planning and execution of the recruitment and training of election staff and other important electoral activities being timely and well conducted," the EU mission said in its preliminary statement released Tuesday.

These improvements aside, monitoring groups say a long list of problems stand in the way of genuinely fair elections.

Many of these have less to do with what happens on polling day or even in the official four-week campaign, than they are the result of decades of instability and the dominant role played by CPP in the country’s political life since 1979, when neighbouring Vietnamese installed them after overthrowing the Khmer Rouge.

CPP almost completely dominates the electronic media, particularly TV, by far the most important source of information for Cambodians.

The EU statement said this situation is "to the detriment of the other parties to a degree which was not consistent with international standards of free and fair access to the media," the EU statement said.

On Jul. 10, NEC issued a warning to 13 television stations for broadcasting biased coverage of the elections. Ten of these were dominated by pro-CPP coverage, according to NEC.

"Not only do people have a right to vote but they have a right to an informed choice," said Andrews. "CPP domination of the media makes this very difficult."

The 2003 campaign also saw a widespread increase in the use of state resources by CPP during the campaign period, including the use of government vehicles and campaigning by government and military staff.

Other problems included widespread vote buying and the interference of village chiefs, the overwhelming majority of which are pro-CPP, in NEC’s voter education activities.

"I say take it as a whole, before the election and after balloting," said Andrews. "I think this (election) was a step forward on the longer road to a more vibrant and healthy democracy. But there are several steps more that need to be taken."

(END/2008)

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EU Criticises Cambodia Election

A gardener works on the landscape in the front of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) headquarters in Phnom Penh. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen took nearly 60 percent of the vote in weekend polls, election officials said, but the opposition rejected his win and demanded a new balloting. (AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

EU Criticises Cambodia Election

Monitors from the European Union Say Cambodia's Recent General Election Fell Short of International Standards.

By Guy Delauney
Tuesday, 29 July 2008 (BBC News, Phnom Penh)

They said the governing party dominated the media and the National Election Committee (NEC), and tens of thousands of people were disenfranchised.

But they also praised the smooth running of what was described as a "technically good" election.

The EU observers were among 17,000 local and international monitors who observed the election.

While their findings were a mixed bag, there was certainly more criticism than praise.

The key issue was impartiality and the role of the governing Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

Large majority

The EU team said the CPP had made "consistent and widespread" use of state resources for its own campaigning efforts.

The party dominated media coverage to an unacceptable degree, and the presence of officials connected to the CPP on the NEC compromised that institution's independence.

The monitors said the NEC had disenfranchised 50,000 registered voters by allowing their names to be removed from the electoral roll.

But the EU's chief observer, Martin Callanan, said that had not affected the result of the election.

"Under the provisional results that have been published, the CPP clearly has a very large majority," he said.

"Therefore any irregularities which were proved would have to be on a very large scale in order to invalidate that result.''

The opposition parties beg to differ.

Four of them have rejected the provisional results, which give the CPP an overall majority.

They claim that hundreds of thousands of their supporters were unable to vote and that similar numbers of ineligible people were allowed to cast ballots.

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Quest for freedom and justice has no end

Quest For Freedom And Justice Has No End

July 30, 2008 (Pacific Daily News)
By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

Nobody likes to be criticized, especially when criticism touches on national pride. Yet, it has been said, justified criticism provides room for improvement; unjustified criticism speaks volumes about its author's values and worth.

I am reminded that my recent columns on Cambodia "rattled" many, even though anyone can read much of a similar nature on the Internet. My former students of politics would recall my lectures on how existing freedoms, if not cherished and defended, are hard to regain. They should remember a Chinese proverb I often quoted, "Great souls have wills. Feeble ones have only wishes," and Edmund Burke's words, "All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," as I encouraged action.

I am not writing in this space to sell a political or ideological point of view, although I have my own political and ideological preferences and have expressed them. My intent is to share ideas and provoke thought, for that's how knowledge grows. If ideas and thoughts lead to positive action for society, that's not a bad thing.

Cambodia's July 27 national elections have ended. Some have applauded the outcome; others see the outcome in dark terms.

Eric Pape's "The Rule of Murderers and Thieves," in the July 23 Newsweek Web exclusive should give readers pause; Chhan D. Touch's July 24 "Why you should not vote CPP," (Premier Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party) on the Internet outlined three "simple reasons ... a Vietnamese puppet: personal gain, fear, and ignorance."

At the same time, the Thai-Cambodian conflict, which put two armies at a standoff over the ownership of the ancient Temple of Preah Vihear, awarded to Cambodia by the World Court in 1962, clouded the emotionally charged Cambodian election. Interestingly, the Singapore Straits Times reported, Singapore foreign minister George Yeo told a news conference after the Association of South-East Asian Nations' annual security meeting, "It was not a problem, even a few weeks ago. It suddenly became a problem." This, in itself, is a topic worth dissecting.

Like it or not, the flawed Cambodian elections put "elected" leaders in government to lead the country. While Albert Einstein's words should be remembered, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," we know that in most nation-states in the world the common goals of government are to maintain the country's independence and sovereignty (including Preah Vihear and Koh Tral for Cambodia); security (the order and the security for citizens); and economic and social well-being of all citizens (the promotion of individual and general welfare). How to get the newly elected leaders to achieve these goals?

Last week, I quoted Burma's dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who advised those feeling "hopeless and despairing: 'Don't just sit there. Do something.'"

"Change does not roll in on wheels of inevitability," civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. declared. Change "comes through continuous struggle. And so we must strengthen our back and work for our freedom," he told African-Americans. "A man can't ride you unless your back is bent." African-Americans' fight for change continues today.

There is a Khmer proverb that says, "Live with cow, sleep like cow; Live with parrot, fly like parrot." Such is the power and influence of the socialization that shapes and molds man's behavior, a process that begins at birth and ends only in death.

Being human, we all think. As with most things, however, it is the quality of the thought that matters. I have written about the Foundation of Critical Thinking that posits, "all thinking is not of the same quality," and the "quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought," and "the quality of everything we do is determined by the quality of our thinking."

"To think through," the Foundation advises, we need to "ask essential questions" on "what is necessary, relevant, and indispensable to a matter at hand."

"A mind with no questions is a mind that is not intellectually alive," asserts the Foundation.

I also wrote about Tim Hurson's book, "Think Better," that posits, "Every brain, regardless of its intelligence quotient (IQ) or creative quotient (CQ), can be taught to think better; to understand more clearly, think more creatively, and plan more effectively." Thus, people can learn.

Hurson advises: even when an answer "seem(s) so clear, so obvious, so right," -- as there are Cambodians who think Premier Sen and the CPP's corruption and repressive rule destroy Cambodia -- we should not settle on these answers but "keep asking new questions ... resist the urge to answer, the urge to know ... (because those) who 'know' ... don't need to learn because they already have the answers.

This brings me back to Suu Kyi's call on people to develop a "questing mind" that not only questions but also seeks answers.

The quest for freedom and justice has no end.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

EU monitor says Cambodian election biased in favor of ruling party

EU Monitor Says Cambodian Election Biased in Favor of Ruling Party

2008-07-29 (PR-Inside)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - The European Union on Tuesday said last weekend's national elections in Cambodia failed to meet international standards because of biases in favor of the country's ruling party.

The criticism came the day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party claimed it had won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections. The results were expected to usher in a new term for the premier who has ruled the country for 23 years.

Martin Callanan, the head of an EU election monitoring team, said all aspects of organizing Sunday's polls were «dominated by the Cambodian People's Party,» which allow «accusations of lack of impartiality to be made,» he said.

Callanan said there was bias during the election campaigns, citing «a widespread use of state resources,» including the use of government-registered vehicles by ruling party officials.
He also said the party dominated the media coverage «which was not consistent with international standard on free and equal access to the media.

But Callanan declined to characterize the election as unfair despite allegations of widespread vote rigging from smaller parties, including the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party. They have called on the international community to reject the results.

Tep Nitha, the election committee's secretary-general, declined to comment on the issue.
in a joint statement Monday, four small parties including Sam Rainsy, said Hun Sen's party won through «illegal and fraudulent practices.» They cited the National Election Committee's alleged removal of tens of thousands of legitimate voters from electoral lists to prevent them from casting ballots for other parties.

They also accused the electoral body of acting as «a tool for the CPP to organize a sham election and present a facade of democracy.

Khieu Kanharith, the spokesman of the ruling party, dismissed the allegations of fraud.
Callanan said his team will release its final findings on the election in October.

The CPP has claimed a landslide victory with up to 91 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, which is the lower house of Parliament. Official results are expected in a few days.

Hun Sen has been at the center of Cambodian politics since 1985, when he became the world's youngest prime minister at age 33. He has held or shared the top job ever since, bullying and outfoxing his opponents to stay in power.

Sunday's voting was the fourth parliamentary election since the United Nations brokered a peace deal for the country in 1991, a process meant to end decades of civil unrest that included the 1975-79 genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

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Cambodia's Poll 'Did Not Meet Key International Standards'

Cambodian women stand in line to vote outside a polling station in Kampong Cham province north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Cambodia's Poll 'Did Not Meet Key International Standards'

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Despite improvements in electoral processes, Cambodia's recent election was flawed and did not meet key standards, international monitors said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 59.6 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, compared with nearly 21 percent for the nearest rival, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, according to a partial count by Cambodian electoral authorities.

But the poll was marred by the CPP's domination of media coverage, the improper deletion of people from registration lists so they could not vote, and other irregularities, said a preliminary report by 130 European Union election monitors.

"While the campaign was generally conducted in a more peaceful and open environment compared to previous elections, the 2008 National Assembly Elections have fallen short of a number of key international standards for democratic elections," said Martin Callanan, who led the EU observers.

"Ultimately, it's up to the Cambodian people to accept or reject the results," Callanan said, adding that the EU would issue a more detailed report with recommendations in October.

The Asian Network For Free Elections (ANFREL) called for an investigation and "a serious penalty" for manipulation of the vote.

"The election was maybe free, but not fair at all," said Somsri Hananuntasuk, head of ANFREL's election monitoring mission to Cambodia.

The main problem was people being deleted from voter lists, while there also needed to be limits on campaign financing and the ruling party's control of media, she said.

The EU calculated that 50,000 voters were left off rolls, but Callanan said that would not have greatly affected the election since early results show a large majority for the CPP.

"Any irregularities that were proved would clearly have to be on a very large scale in order to invalidate that result," he said.

However, the four minority parties rejected the outcome, accusing the CPP of fiddling with the voter rolls to ensure their victory.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy estimated that one million out of 8.1 million registered voters had been cut from the rolls. He said his party members observed 50 to 100 people at each of the country's 15,000 polling stations had been unable to vote.

"The large-scale irregularities here can change the result of the election. I'm disappointed that such a so-called expert could make such a mistake," Sam Rainsy told AFP Tuesday outside the EU's press conference.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted lower violence from previous elections but said in a Tuesday statement it had observed "threats, intimidation and inducements directed against political activists" to get them to change parties.

The CPP has claimed victory, saying it captured at least 90 of the 123 seats in parliament, giving them more than a two-thirds majority.

Local rights groups have expressed concern that if the CPP did secure a majority there would be fewer checks and balances in the country's fledgling democracy.

At 55, Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 23 years and has vowed to remain in power until he is 90. He had been widely tipped to win amid a booming economy and nationalist sentiment sparked by a border feud with Thailand.

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Four Main Parties Reject 'Sham' Election

(L-R) Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) leader Sam Rainsy, Human Rights Party leader Khem Sokha, member of royalist FUNCINPEC Prince Sisowath Sirirath and member of Norodom Ranariddh Party Muth Chantha hold hands during a news conference, as they reject election results saying it was manipulated by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CCP) at SRP headquarters in Phnom Penh July 28, 2008. CCP claimed a landslide victory on Monday in an election bestowing another five years in power on ex-Khmer Rouge guerrilla Hun Sen, prime minister for the past 23 years. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Four Main Parties Reject 'Sham' Election

By Heng Reaksmey
28 July 2008 (VOA Khmer )

Representatives from four non-ruling parties gathered at opposition headquarters Monday to reject Sunday's national election as "a sham," after the ruling Cambodian People's Party appeared to have won enough seats to form a single-party government.

Top officials of the Sam Rainsy, Human Rights, Norodom Ranariddh and Funcinpec parties signed a letter calling on "Cambodian public opinion and the international community not to recognize the results of the July 27, 2008, elections, which were manipulated and rigged by the ruling Cambodian People's Party."

There have not been five separate parties elected to the National Assembly since the 1993 Untac elections, and the joining together of four against one is unprecedented.

In 1998, the Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec parties joined together to protest election results in the wake of the 1997 coup.

That three-month crisis of government led to mass demonstrations in the capital and a brutal crackdown by government forces, where scores of demonstrators were disappeared and presumed killed.

In 2003, the government was deadlocked for 11 months, due to an alliance between Funcinpec and SRP that prevented a coalition government.

"We have already strengthened together to deny the results of the election, and also for the voters," opposition leader Sam Rainsy told a large crowd gathered at his headquarters Monday afternoon. "We need to revote across Cambodia."

"We appeal to the EU and the international community to deny the results, because there are so many irregularities during the election," Human Rights Party Presdient Kem Sokha told the same cheering crowd.

The parties "hope in the future will have an alliance together" and have the same goals, he said.

The main point for the alliance would be to send a message to the people "who love justice" to come to work together.

The four parties condemned "illegal and fraudulent practices" in Sunday's polls, including "deletion of countless legitimate voters' names and [an] artificial increase in the CPP voters to cast their ballots for the CPP."

The parties also condemned "the tricks and maneuvers of the National Election Committee, which is only a tool for the CPP to organize a sham election and present a façade of democracy."

"I'm not surprised about this information," NEC Chairman Im Sousdey told reporters Monday. "We always see after the election Cambodian political parties doing the same thing."

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Monday unofficial results now showed the CPP with 90 seats, followed by the Sam Rainsy Party with 26, Human Rights Party with three, Norodom Ranariddh with two, and Funcinpec with two.

Khieu Thai Sarakmony, a 57-year-old from Phnom Penh who joined the crowd at SRP headquarters Monday, said he supported the cooperation of the four parties for the people.

"But it should have been earlier," he said, "before the election."

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Four Major Political Parties Reject Election Results

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Four Major Political Parties Reject Election Results

28 July 2008

The undersigned political parties call on the Cambodian public opinion and the international community not to recognize the results of the July 27, 2008 elections which were manipulated and rigged by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

The main illegal and fraudulent practices are related to deletion of countless legitimate voters' names and artificial increase in the CPP votes associated with 1018 forms issued by CPP-controlled authorities to illegitimate voters to cast their ballots for the CPP.

We call on the public opinion to condemn the tricks and maneuvers of the National Election Committee which is only a tool for the CPP to organize a sham election and present a façade of democracy.

For FUNCINPEC PARTY
SISOWATH SIRIRATH

For HUMAN RIGHTS PARTY
KEM SOKHA

For NORODOM RANARIDDH PARTY
MUTH CHANTHA

For SAM RAINSY PARTY
SAM RAINSY

For additional information:

FUNCINPEC 012 888 320
HRP 012 400 026
NRP 012 937 392
SRP 092 888 002

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Thailand and Cambodia Try Again to Defuse Temple Row

Thailand and Cambodia Try Again to Defuse Temple Row

By Ek Madra

Mon Jul 28, 2008 4:34 AM BST136

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (Reuters) - Thailand's new foreign minister started talks with his Cambodian counterpart on Monday to defuse a row over a 900-year-old temple that has raised fears of a military clash between the southeast Asian neighbors.

Career diplomat Tej Bunnag, who was appointed at the weekend after the resignation of his predecessor over the Preah Vihear spat, declined to talk to reporters as he entered the meeting with Cambodia's Hor Namhong in the tourist town of Siem Reap.

The Cambodian side was also keeping quiet before the talks, which are not expected to yield any major breakthrough in the dispute over 1.8 square miles of scrubland near the temple.

The ancient Hindu temple sits on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms the natural boundary between the two countries. The International Court of Justice awarded the ruins to Cambodia in a 1962 ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

The Hague court did not rule on the disputed bits of land next to the temple.

With troops and artillery building up on both sides of the border, Cambodia has threatened to take the spat to the United Nations Security Council. Thailand wants all talks with its smaller neighbor to remain strictly two-way.

"Attempts to bring the bilateral issue to broader frameworks at this stage could complicate the situation and in turn, produce undesirable repercussions on the good relations and goodwill," Tej said in a statement on Sunday.

The talks -- the second attempt to resolve the dispute through dialogue -- are expected to run until around 4.30 pm

(0930 GMT).

CONFLICTING MAPS

Negotiations a week ago between top military officials quickly descended into an argument over which of several maps drawn up in the last 100 years should be used to settle ownership of the temple and surrounding area.

General Chea Mon, a Cambodian commander at the temple, said both he and Thai officers had ordered a halt to the digging of trenches and bunkers for the duration of the talks, but made clear that any pull-back was out of the question.

"We are still in a military stand-off," he told Reuters.

The dispute flared up when street protesters in Bangkok trying to oust the Thai government seized on its approval of Phnom Penh's bid to list the ruins as a World Heritage site.

A general election campaign in Cambodia ensured the row quickly escalated, although Prime Minister Hun Sen's landslide victory in Sunday's poll gives him scope to tone down the rhetoric and move towards some understanding with Thailand.

However, there is still a risk of the row taking on a life of its own, with ordinary Cambodians organizing collections of cash, food and clothing in the capital to send to troops on the border.

In 2003, a Cambodian nationalist mob torched the Thai embassy and several Thai-owned businesses in Phnom Penh after erroneous reports of comments from a Thai soap opera star suggesting Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temples really belonged to Thailand.

(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Alan Raybould)

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Cambodia's Ruling Party Claims Victory

Cambodia's Ruling Party Claims Victory

By Lisa Murray in Phnom Penh

Published: July 28 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 28 2008 03:00

The Cambodian People's party, buoyed by a decade of political stability and strong economic growth, claimed victory in yesterday's parliamentary elections, extending Hun Sen's 23-year reign as prime minister.

The CPP said late last night that it had won almost two-thirds of the national assembly's 123 seats. However, it looks set to face a stronger and more unified opposition after early reports indicated that its main rival, the Sam Rainsy party, had made significant gains.

Yesterday's parliamentary elections were the fourth since the UN brokered a peace deal be-tween Cambodia's Vietnamese-backed government and the Khmer Rouge in 1991.

A constitutional change means the CPP no longer requires a two-thirds majority to form a government and therefore will not have to seek the support of a coalition partner.

A spokesman for election monitoring group Comfrel said early results showed the SRP could have won as many as 40 seats, at the expense of the royalist Funcinpec party. Official results are expected this week.

A strong economy and the national sentiment stirred up by the recent border dispute with Thailand underpinned support for the CPP, in spite of anger at rampant corruption.

Many voters cited the strong economy as the chief reason behind their vote for the party. Solid tourism, -garment and construction sectors have underpinned average annual economic growth of 9.5 per cent since 2000.

"People have noted a tangible improvement in their lives over the last five years," said Douglas Clayton, managing partner of Leopard Capital, an investment group in Cambodia.

While observers said the election was generally free and fair, they expressed concern about media bias and allegations of political violence and vote buying.

A journalist for an opposition party-backed newspaper and his son were shot and killed this month. The US embassy offered the resources of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the case, an offer that has so far been ignored.

"It's very worrying because it contributed to a climate of fear among journalists," said Martin Callanan, a member of the European parliament and the EU's chief observer. "There is already a heavy bias towards the CPP in the media."

Mr Callanan said his team was also concerned that 50,000 names were missing from voter lists.

Sam Rainsy, SRP leader, called for a recount after he claimed 200,000 names were left off the lists in the capital city alone, accounting for a quarter of its voters.

So far there is no evidence to suggest these names were scrat-ched for political reasons.

The SRP has attracted strong support among the urban elite for its anticorruption drive.

The royalist Funcinpec, which won the majority of votes in Cambodia's first election in 1993, looks to have lost most of its seats.

It was previously led by Hun Sen rival Prince Norodom Ranariddh but he was ousted in an internal coup, and set up his own party.

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Early Results Point to Ruling Party Win in Cambodia Election

Early Results Point to Ruling Party Win in Cambodia Election

By south-east Asia correspondent Karen Percy (ABC News)

Early results show that Cambodia's ruling party has been handed another five years in office after voters again endorsed the long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The Cambodian People's Party has increased its number of seats in Parliament at each successive election since 1993.

After early counting, it is claiming 80 of the 123 national seats this time around.

That is exactly what the party had been predicting, and the leader of the main opposition party, Sam Rainsy, says that is because the Government has manipulated the vote.

Early results also reveal that Sam Rainsy's party has increased its representation in the Parliament.

It expects to have 40 seats, its best electoral performance yet.

Both parties have benefited from the split within the royalist movement.

Official results are expected later today.

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Hun Sen Wins Cambodian Election and Probably Expands Majority

Hun Sen Wins Cambodian Election and Probably Expands Majority

By Daniel Ten Kate

July 27 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former communist who has ruled for two decades, won today's election and probably increased his parliamentary majority amid greater prosperity and a wave of nationalism over a border dispute.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party finished first in the voting, followed by opposition leader Sam Rainsy's party, named after himself, said Khan Keo Mono, a spokesman for the National Election Committee.

``Votes are still being counted but the CPP probably won more seats than it did in 2003,'' the spokesman said by telephone today. Official results are expected tomorrow.

The ruling party's victory may lead to more foreign investment. The economic expansion and a recent military standoff with neighboring Thailand over disputed land near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, a United Nations' World Heritage Site, have benefited the incumbent government.

``Political stability has been and will continue to be the most important contributor to Cambodia's rapid economic growth,'' said a July 21 note from the Cambodia Investment and Development Fund, one of several funds planning to spend about $450 million in the country.

In the 2003 election, Hun Sen's party won 73 of 123 parliamentary seats, or 59 percent, short of the two-thirds majority then required to form a government. In 2006, lawmakers changed the constitution to allow a party to form a government with a simple majority. Hun Sen said he expects to win 81 seats in this election.

Disenfranchised

Sam Rainsy, whose party won 24 seats in the 2003 election, said today that 200,000 voters in Phnom Penh were disenfranchised because their names were taken off voter lists. He called for a re-vote in the capital, where he outperformed Hun Sen in the previous election.

Election observers, who noted the missing names on voter lists, said the poll was cleaner than in previous years. Human rights groups have said political violence during this campaign season did not reach the level seen in years past.

``This election was better,'' Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, a non-governmental organization, said by phone Sunday night. ``We saw irregularities but they were fewer than we saw before.''

Sam Rainsy was probably exaggerating the number of people whose names were left off voter lists, Hang Puthea said. The National Election Committee has the authority to call a new election, an unlikely prospect at this point.

``The election went smoothly; we just had some problems with missing voter names,'' said Khan Keo Mono, the national election committee spokesman. He added that those people ``cannot vote anymore.''

Growing Support

For now, Hun Sen, 56, is enjoying growing support as foreign investment creates jobs in the energy, agriculture, tourism and garment industries and he rewards rural voters with new schools and paved roads. The ongoing troop buildup along the Thai border has stirred up nationalism that gave him a boost heading into today's election.

Thailand and Cambodia plan to meet tomorrow in Siem Reap, home to Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple complex, to try and resolve the row over 4.6 square kilometers of disputed land. Thailand appointed a new foreign minister yesterday to lead negotiations after the previous one was forced to resign over the issue.

Issue Resolution

New Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag said in a statement today that he is ``confident that on the basis of their close and long- standing friendship, the two countries will be able to find ways to resolve the issue together.''

Cambodia has started to rehabilitate its image as a corrupt beggar state after the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s killed most of the educated class. It received $763 million in foreign aid last year.

Foreign investment is set to double from $2.7 billion this year, according to the Cambodian Investment Board, a government agency. As the country prepares to open a stock market next year, foreign investment funds such as Leopard Capital are looking at banks, office buildings, luxury hotels and other projects.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cambodia Election Temp Result - Each Province

Temp Result - Each Province
Click on each province to view result in PDF format
Candidates for Prime Minister of Cambodia
CPP SRP HRP NRP
Hun Sen
Hun Sen
Sam Rainsy
Sam Rainsy
Kem Sokha
Kem Sokha
Norodom_Ranariddh
Ranariddh




Oudoor MeanChey
BanTeay MeanChey
Siem Reap
Preah Vihear
Stung Treing
Rattanakkiri
Mondolkiri
Kra Cheah
Kompong Thom
Battambang
Pay Len
Poh Sat
Kompong Chnang
Kompong Cham
Svay Reang
Prey Veng
Kandal
Phnom Penh
Takeo
KomPong Speu
Kompot
Krong Kep
Koh Kong
sihanoukville

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Longtime Cambodian Leader Claims New Election Win

Longtime Cambodian Leader Claims New Election Win

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party claimed it had sealed a landslide victory in parliamentary elections Sunday that were expected to usher in a new term for the former Khmer Rouge soldier who has ruled for 23 years.

Hun Sen's popularity at the polls was buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.

The 57-year-old Hun Sen's reputation as a strongman served him well in the campaign, with voters rallying around the leader as Cambodian troops faced off with Thai soldiers for a second week at a disputed 11th century Hindu temple.

Just hours after polling stations closed, the ruling Cambodian People's Party appeared to be "leading everywhere" and estimates from party agents nationwide indicated a sweep of more than 83 seats in the 123-seat lower house, said party spokesman Khieu Kanharith. Such a result would strengthen the party's dominance and give it a two-thirds majority in the 123-seat lower house.

"We can claim a landslide victory. It is certain," the spokesman told The Associated Press, adding that vote counting had been completed in most constituencies.

Thun Saray, head of the Cambodian election monitoring group Comfrel, said it was "early to declare victory but the trend shows that CPP is winning." Official results were expected later in the week.

In power since 1985, Hun Sen is Asia's longest-serving leader. He was expected to win the vote even before the military standoff escalated earlier this month. But patriotic passions over Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have swayed many undecided voters in his favor, analysts say.

"Everybody now supports the government because this is a national issue," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor. "More people will vote for (Hun Sen) to give him more power to deal with Preah Vihear."

Chan Sim, a 72-year-old in the capital, said he cast his ballot for Hun Sen's ruling party "because of its good leadership and ability to keep unity."

Hun Sen had voiced little doubt that his party, which held 73 assembly seats during the past five-year term, would return to power for another five years.

"I wish to state it very clearly this way: No one can defeat Hun Sen," the prime minister said earlier this year.

Hun Sen has been at the center of Cambodian politics since 1985 when he became the world's youngest prime minister at age 33. He has held or shared the top job ever since, bullying and outfoxing his opponents.

Sunday's voting was the fourth parliamentary election since the United Nations brokered a peace deal in 1991 meant to end decades of civil unrest that included the 1975-79 genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

When Vietnam's army drove the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979, Hun Sen at age 27 was named foreign minister and later prime minister in a single-party Soviet-style regime.

The first election was held in 1993 and supervised by the United Nations. The royalist Funcinpec party won but was strong-armed into forming a coalition with Hun Sen, who later wrested full power in a 1997 coup.

Repeated allegations of vote fraud have failed to dent the dominance of the ruling party, which has wooed Cambodia's poor majority with populist policies and dotted the countryside with schools, temples and roads.

Internationally, he has faced criticism for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. But Hun Sen argues that his tenure has ushered in peace and stability after the Khmer Rouge's rule, during which an estimated 1.7 million people died.

A former Khmer Rouge soldier, Hun Sen has embraced free-market policies that have recently made Cambodia's economy one of the fastest growing in Asia, expanding at 11 percent in each of the past three years.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which held 24 seats in the lower house of Parliament, campaigned for an end to alleged government corruption, greater attention to human rights and the country's poor. More than a third of Cambodians live on less than $1 a day.

An irate Sam Rainsy claimed that some 200,000 registered voters in the capital, Phnom Penh, where the opposition is strongest, were unable to cast ballots because their names were left off voter lists. He demanded a new vote in the city.

National Election Committee chief Tep Nitha dismissed the fraud allegation, saying voters had been told to check last year if their names were on voting lists.

This year's election campaign was upstaged by the military standoff with Thailand.

The controversy revolves around less than two square miles of land that has been in dispute since French colonialists withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple site to Cambodia in 1962, but anger flared in Thailand last month after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej backed Cambodia's successful bid for the temple to be listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the temple. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops to the border.

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Ruling Party Claims Victory in Cambodia Polls

Ruling Party Claims Victory in Cambodia Polls

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party on Sunday claimed victory in polls overshadowed by a military standoff with Thailand, setting the stage for him to extend his 23-year grip on power.

"We won the election," party spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP, citing tallies by their supporters. "We are leading in most of the provinces."

He added that the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) was not yet sure of its margin of victory, as ballots were still being counted.

The initial vote count showed the CPP was leading with more than two-thirds of the vote in three provinces, election officials said on national television. Final official results were not expected until next month.

Hun Sen had been widely tipped to win due to a booming economy that has helped improve the quality of life in one of the world's poorest nations, and due to nationalist sentiment sparked by the border feud with Thailand, analysts said.

Khieu Kanharith had earlier predicted the party would win 80 of the 123 seats in parliament, just shy of a two-thirds majority, as the party siphoned away votes from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and royalist Funcinpec.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called for a re-vote in Phnom Penh, alleging 200,000 people there could not vote Sunday after their names were lost from registration lists.

"Neither party won more than two-thirds of the seats," he told reporters, estimating that no party had received more than 70 seats, according to a tally by his supporters.

Election monitors, however, dismissed his claim of vote-rigging and said voting had proceeded smoothly overall.

Voters in the capital started lining up at dawn to cast ballots, with many saying their overriding concern was the territorial dispute with Thailand, centred on the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

"I will vote for those who can solve the issue of Preah Vihear temple immediately after they take power," said 56-year-old businessman Lam Chanvanda, as he stood in a long queue of voters.

"Before I was never interested in the border, but now it is in my heart."

Thousands of soldiers from both sides are facing off near the 11th-century Khmer temple. Foreign ministers from the two nations are set to meet Monday in hopes of resolving the deal.

Analysts had long predicted Hun Sen's victory because of Cambodia's strong economy, which has helped provide new roads, bridges and other improved infrastructure.

"This (victory) is the result of economic development, which has been spectacular, as well as strong campaigning," said Benny Widyono, a former UN envoy to Cambodia.

About 17,000 domestic and international observers monitored the voting at more than 15,000 polling stations. More than eight million people were registered to vote.

US-based Human Rights Watch has complained that the ruling party's near monopoly on broadcast media has undermined the opposition's efforts to woo voters, especially in rural parts of the country.

One radio station was shut down late Saturday after it broadcast a reading from a book by Sam Rainsy, violating rules against campaigning on the day before the vote, said Khieu Kanharith, who is also the government spokesman.

Hun Sen has a reputation for trampling on human rights to secure power. The former Khmer Rouge guerrilla became prime minister in 1985, and has steadily and ruthlessly cemented his grip on power, resorting to a coup in 1997.

In the current campaign, Hun Sen has been aided by his opponents' mistakes. His current coalition partner, the royalist Funcinpec party, has imploded under internal corruption scandals.

The Sam Rainsy Party was expected to maintain its strength in the capital but has made few inroads into rural Cambodia, where most voters live.

Although the campaign has been less violent than past elections, Human Rights Watch warned that a history of violence remains a source of intimidation against the opposition.

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SRP has collected countless 1018 Forms fraudulently issued by the CPP for illegitimate voters.

SRP has collected countless 1018 Forms fraudulently issued by the CPP for illegitimate voters (Click on image to view larger)

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Facts and Figures on Cambodia's Parliamentary Elections

Facts and Figures on Cambodia's Parliamentary Elections

July 27, 2008 (AP)

THE SYSTEM: Bicameral parliament consisting of the National Assembly, or lower house, and the Senate, the upper house. The National Assembly is elected once every five years.
The National Assembly has 123 seats. Its function is to approve laws and appoint a new government. The king, who is the head of state, signs off on all laws adopted by Parliament. He wields no executive power.

The Senate will not be affected by Sunday's ballot. It has 61 members.

ELECTORATE: 8.1 million voters above 18 years of age, more than 50 percent of whom are women, in a country of 14 million people.
King Norodom Sihamoni does not vote and cannot hold political office. Many other members of the royal family are running in the election.

POLITICAL GROUPS: Eleven political parties are running for parliamentary seats in 24 constituencies across Cambodia. There are two front-runners: Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, a former communist party which has held power for the past 29 years; and the Sam Rainsy Party of former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy. In the outgoing parliament, CPP held 73 seats to the opposition's 24. Hun Sen has been prime minister since 1985.

THE CANDIDATES: There are a total of 1,162 candidates. Parties compete rather than candidates. Total votes received by a party in a constituency are used to calculate the number of seats occupied by its candidates in the National Assembly. There are no independent candidates.

THE ISSUES: Standard election issues like the economy, rising fuel and commodities prices, government corruption, poor health care and poverty have been upstaged by a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. The row prompted both countries to send troops to the border two weeks before the election. Nationalist pride was expected to propel Hun Sen to re-election.
Some 35 percent of the country's 14 million people live on less than US$.50 per day. The country depends heavily on foreign financial assistance.

VOTING HOURS: 0000 GMT to 0800 GMT, July 27.

VOTING SYSTEM: Each ballot carries the names and symbols of all 23 parties running for election. Each voter is allowed to select only one party.

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Cambodian Ruling Party Heads to Poll Win

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen shows his ink-stained finger to the media after casting his ballot during the general election at a polling station in Takmoa town in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, July 27, 2008. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian Ruling Party Heads to Poll Win

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodians went to the polls Sunday in an election dominated by a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand that has fueled national sentiment, strengthening longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Hun Sen's reputation as a strongman who intimidates rivals has served him well, with voters rallying around the leader as Cambodian troops face off with Thai soldiers for a second week at a disputed 11th century Hindu temple on the border.

Dressed in gray safari shirt and pants, Hun Sen flashed a broad smile and displayed a black-inked forefinger to waiting cameras after casting his ballot Sunday in a provincial town outside the capital, Phnom Penh. He declined comment to reporters.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called a midday news conference, claiming some 200,000 registered voters in the capital, where the opposition is strongest, were unable to cast ballots because their names had been left off voter lists.

The ruling party "is full of tricks. Scrap the election and do it again," he said. Allegations of vote fraud have plagued past Cambodian elections but never dented the ruling party's dominance.

Asia's longest-serving leader, the 57-year-old Hun Sen was forecast to win the vote even before the military standoff escalated earlier this month. But patriotic passions over Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have swayed many undecided voters in his favor, analysts say.

"Everybody now supports the government because this is a national issue," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor. "More people will vote for (Hun Sen) to give him more power to deal with Preah Vihear."

Chan Sim, a 72-year-old voter in the capital, cast his ballot for Hun Sen's ruling party "because of its good leadership and ability to keep unity."

A 24-year-old Buddhist monk, Chhuon Noeurn, said the standoff at Preah Vihear did not affect his choice for a leader, but added: "We Cambodians cannot afford to be divided on this issue."

More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's election. Buddhist monks and ordinary people, some holding toddlers with milk bottles, crowded polling stations when they opened at 8 p.m. EDT. Unofficial party results were expected a few hours after polling stations close at 4 a.m. EDT. Official figures were expected later in the week.

Eleven parties are vying for seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a new government to run the country for the next five years.

Hun Sen himself has voiced little doubt that his ruling Cambodian People's Party, which held 73 Assembly's seats during the past five-year-term, will return with an overwhelming majority.

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia since 1985, when he became prime minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

Internationally, he has faced criticism for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. But Hun Sen argues his tenure ushered in peace and stability after the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign from 1975-1979, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people before being toppled by the invading Vietnamese army.

A former Khmer Rouge soldier himself, Hun Sen embraced free-market policies that have made Cambodia's economy one of the fastest growing in Asia, expanding at 11 percent in each of the past three years.

"The economic growth helps. And in a time of crisis, people feel they have to be united behind the power that controls the army," said Benny Widyono, an independent observer and former United Nations official during Cambodia's U.N.-brokered peace process in the early 1990s.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which held 24 seats in the lower house of parliament, campaigned for greater attention to human rights, the country's poor and an end to alleged corruption.

But standard election issues have been upstaged by the military standoff with Thailand, a controversy revolving around 1.8 square miles of land that has been in dispute since French colonialists withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple site to Cambodia in 1962, but anger flared in Thailand last month after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej backed Cambodia's successful bid for the temple to be listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the temple. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops to the border.

The two countries plan to resume negotiations on the border row Monday.

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In Cambodia, Learning the Lessons of Graft

In Cambodia, Learning the Lessons of Graft

A proposed anti-corruption law gathered support in the run-up to Sunday's election here, but bribery is still pervasive -- starting with schoolchildren, who must pay their teachers for good grades.
By Don Lee, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 27, 2008
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA -- Before leaving for Chompovon Primary School on the outskirts of the capital, students say, their parents give them 10 to 15 cents of pocket money. That's enough to buy some breakfast cakes and rice -- and pay their teachers a few cents before they walk into class.

The fee, a widespread practice in Cambodia's public schools, is a kind of informal toll that students must pay. If they don't, parents say, they risk receiving a lower grade or even being demoted.

Here, schoolchildren are taught at an early age what it takes to get ahead. And it only gets worse as they grow up. At every turn, Cambodians pay under the table: for a birth certificate, a travel visa, a fair ruling from a judge.

Transparency International, a corruption-fighting organization based in Berlin, says the majority of Cambodia's public servants earn their living by collecting bribes.

In recent years, many things have improved in Cambodia, particularly its economy, which has grown by more than 10% annually. Analysts say those gains will probably give Prime Minister Hun Sen's party a commanding victory in today's parliamentary elections.

But when it comes to corruption, there has been virtually no improvement, say businesspeople, Western diplomats, foreign relief workers and Cambodian citizens. The country has consistently been ranked as among the most graft-ridden in the world, and some say that the situation may have gotten worse with the economic resurgence.

"When things start to boom, people start to get a little more greedy," said John Brinsden, vice chairman of Acleda Bank, a locally owned lender with branches throughout Cambodia.

The nation's key industries are garment manufacturing and tourism, but investments from China, South Korea and other countries have increased dramatically, leading to a burst of development in Phnom Penh, around the Angkor temple complex and along tourist coastlines. Property prices have skyrocketed.

Brinsden says he sees a growing middle class, but a third of the population still lives under the poverty line, and the global rise in food and fuel prices threatens to reverse some of the recent gains.

Poverty is a key factor in widespread corruption in this country, which is still recovering from the genocide under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, when an estimated 1.7 million people died from executions as well as starvation, overwork and other abuses.

Cambodians and foreigners alike here charge that Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge fighter, and his Cambodian People's Party have perpetuated corruption with their patronage system, culture of backroom dealing and lack of transparency.

During the election campaign, Hun Sen and candidates with 11 opposition parties pledged support for an anti-corruption law, something that Western relief groups and foreign governments have urged. But it isn't clear when such a law may be enacted or whether it would meet international standards, including requirements that government officials and military leaders disclose their assets.

Cambodians have become accustomed to corrupt behavior at all levels. But many abhor it, especially the way it has permeated schools. Besides paying petty bribes, schoolchildren learn to lie because they are ashamed or are told by teachers not to talk about such practices.

During recess on a hot July afternoon, several fifth-graders at Chompovon sat under a tapang, or umbrella tree. A sign posted on the trunk read: "We have to help grow the trees." None of the students were willing to say how much they were paying their teachers -- and some said there was no such practice.

Jip Sovon, a deputy director of the school, acknowledged that children gave their teachers 100 riel, the equivalent of 2 or 3 cents, every day. But he insisted that the fees weren't mandatory.

"The teachers still allow them to go into class and treat them fairly," he said.

But parents in the neighborhood told a different story.

Until two years ago, Em Sophan had two children attending Chompovon. He said his children paid 200 riel a day each. "Any students who pay are given good scores; those who don't pay get lower scores," he said.

Em said his children quit school after sixth grade because they were told to come up with $100 for a test to move on to secondary school.

"That's a lot of money. My children decided to stop because I can't afford it," Em said, squatting outside his one-room house, built in traditional Cambodian style on 6-foot stilts.

Em sells vinyl caps for a living, making a little more than $2 a day. On a weekday afternoon, his two children were on the streets, one peddling bottled water and the other decals for motorbikes. Down the street, a billboard said: "Every child must be in school, not at work."

Jip, the school's deputy director, said he too hated the system. But he said Cambodian public schools don't pay a living wage. At his school, teachers make on average $25 to $30 a month, and that's after a 15% increase in the last year. Jip said that he has been at the school since it reopened in 1979 and that he earns about $37 monthly.

"We have seen students look down on teachers," he said, "because students think that if they don't pay, the teachers cannot teach."

don.lee@latimes.com

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In Cambodia, Land Seizures Push Thousands of the Poor Into Homelessness

Robert James Elliott for The International Herald Tribune
A boy checked his feet as he walked through waste and trash in a slum for displaced people on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

In Cambodia, Land Seizures Push Thousands of the Poor Into Homelessness

Published: July 27, 2008 (New York Times)

ANDONG, Cambodia — When the monsoon rain pours through Mao Sein’s torn thatch roof, she pulls a straw sleeping mat over herself and her three small children and waits until it stops.

She and her children sit on a low table as floodwater rises, bringing with it the sewage that runs along the mud paths outside their shack.

Ms. Mao Sein, 34, was resettled by the government here in an empty field two years ago, when the police raided the squatters’ colony where she lived in Phnom Penh, the capital, 12 miles away.

She is a widow and a scavenger. The area where she lives has no clean water or electricity, no paved roads or permanent buildings. But there is land to live on, and that has drawn scores of new homeless families to settle here, squatting among the squatters.

With its shacks and its sewage, Andong looks very much like the refugee camps that were home to those who were forced from their homes by the brutal Communist Khmer Rouge three decades ago.

Like tens of thousands of people around the country, those living here are victims of what experts say has become the most serious human rights abuse in the country: land seizures that lead to evictions and homelessness.

“Expropriation of the land of Cambodia’s poor is reaching a disastrous level,” Basil Fernando, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, a private monitoring group, said in December. “The courts are politicized and corrupt, and impunity for human rights violators remains the norm.”

With the economy on the rise, land is being seized for logging, agriculture, mining, tourism and fisheries, and in Phnom Penh, soaring land prices have touched off what one official called a frenzy of land grabs by the rich and powerful. The seizures can be violent, including late-night raids by the police and military. Sometimes, shanty neighborhoods burn down, apparently victims of arson.

“They came at 2 a.m.,” said Ku Srey, 37, who was evicted with Ms. Mao Sein and most of their neighbors in June 2006.

“They were vicious,” Ms. Ku Srey said of the police and soldiers who evicted her.

“They had electric batons” — and she imitated the sound made by the devices: “chk-chk-chk-chk.” She said, “They pushed us into trucks, they threw all our stuff into trucks and they brought us here.”

In a report in February, Amnesty International estimated that 150,000 people around the country were now at risk of forcible eviction as a result of land disputes, land seizures and new development projects.

These include 4,000 families who live around a lake in the center of Phnom Penh, Boeung Kak Lake, which is the city’s main catchment for monsoon rains and is being filled in for upscale development.

“If these communities are forced to move, it would be the most large-scale displacement of Cambodians since the times of the Khmer Rouge,” said Brittis Edman, a researcher with Amnesty International, which is based in London.

That, in a way, would bring history full circle.

Like other ailments of society — political and social violence, poverty and a culture of impunity for those with power — the land issues have roots in Cambodia’s tormented past of slaughter, civil war and social disruptions.

The brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, during which 1.7 million people are estimated to have died, began in 1975 with an evacuation of Phnom Penh, forcing millions of people into the countryside and emptying the city. It ended in 1979 when the Khmer Rouge was driven from power by a Vietnamese invasion, sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into Thailand.

Many of the refugees returned in the 1990s, joining a rootless population displaced by the Khmer Rouge and the decade of civil war that followed in the 1980s. Many ended their journeys in Phnom Penh, creating huge colonies of squatters.

Now, many of these people are being forced to move again, from Phnom Penh and from around the country, victims of the latest scourge of the poor: national prosperity.

Whichever way the winds of history blow, some people here say, life only gets worse for the poor. If it is not “pakdivat,” revolution, that is buffeting the poor, they say, it is “akdivat,” development.

The Cambodian economy has at last started to grow, at an estimated 9 percent last year. And Phnom Penh is starting to transform itself with modern buildings, modest malls and plans for skyscrapers. It is one of the last Asian capitals to begin to pave over its past.

From 1993 to 1999, Amnesty International said in its report in February, the government granted commercial development rights for about one-third of the country’s most productive land for commercial development to private companies.

In Phnom Penh from 1998 through 2003, the city government forced 11,000 families from their homes, the World Bank said in a statement quoted by Amnesty International.

Since then, the human rights group said, evictions have reportedly displaced at least 30,000 more families.

“One thing that is important to note is that the government is not only failing to protect the population, but we are also seeing that it is complicit in many of the forced evictions,” Ms. Edman, of Amnesty International, said.

The government responded to the group’s report through a statement issued by its embassy in London.

“Just to point out that Cambodia is not Zimbabwe,” the statement read. “Your researcher should also spend more time to examine cases of land and housing rights violations in this country, if she dares.”

Here in Andong, the people have adapted as best they can.

Little by little, they have made their dwellings home, some of them decorating their shacks with small flower pots. A few have gathered enough money to buy concrete and bricks to pave their floors and reinforce their walls.

But this home, like the ones they have known in the past, may only be temporary. The outskirts of Phnom Penh are only a few miles away. As the city continues to expand, aid workers say, the people here will probably be forced to move again.

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