Cambodia deserves a bright future: but how will it get there? - Political Professional
On July 27, Cambodians went to the polls to choose a new parliament for the third time since 1993.
With each election, the Cambodian people inch closer toward a future where they can freely engage in political debate, cast a secret ballot and choose a representative body that meets their needs and ensures that peace will be the norm, not the exception.
Unfortunately, however, this ideal is not yet a reality. As an election observer on behalf of the International Republican Institute, I saw first-hand the difficulty that parties opposing the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) faced in getting their message out.
While Cambodians are becoming well versed in the actual mechanics of holding elections, such as how to set up polling locations and count votes in secrecy, political campaigning in Cambodia is a risky business. The non-partisan Cambodian Center for Human Rights documented more than 400 cases of politically motivated crimes and election law violations in a six-month span, in addition to the murder of 11 political activists whose views were not in sync with the ruling CPP.
Some argue that because the number of murders is lower than it was in the two previous elections, this represents a better political environment. However, many election observers attribute this decrease to the CPP's ability to better focus intimidation techniques.
These crimes, along with other documented methods of voter intimidation, have had the obvious affect of prompting voters to cast their vote for the ruling party.
To overcome such obstacles, Cambodia needs persistence and help from abroad. The international political consulting community needs to help the opposition parties understand and better utilize proven campaign tactics.
"Earned media" is a must in the country since the ruling party controls almost all access to radio and television broadcasts. There are no mail or telephone systems to speak of, so phone banks and direct mail campaigns are useless. Additionally, the law only allows campaigning to take place during the 30 days prior to the election.
But even with all of these limitations, there are tremendous opportunities. Cambodians could benefit from understanding how to better organize their grass-roots efforts and engage their party agents; how to organize bigger, better political demonstrations; and how to educate voters about their platforms.
These campaign techniques should assist opposition parties in using their limited resources, as well as help bring transparency to the political campaigns that would make it more difficult for the ruling party to intimidate voters in secret.
The opposition parties have limited capital to hire seasoned political veterans who can help them. This is why it is important for these political operatives to offer their services either pro-bono or at reduced rates.
With such support, Cambodia could eventually rival its neighbor Thailand as a regional and international economic powerhouse; without it, the country will continue its downward spiral into an economic and political wasteland. Which direction it will go is anyone's guess, but the reality is that no true progress can be made as long as the ruling party continues to stymie the electoral process and the opposition parties do not possess the necessary political skills to stand up to them.
Future elections in Cambodia are critical. The world will either witness the continuing maturation of a new democracy, or, in my opinion, the death of the Cambodian people's desire for true liberty. International support from seasoned political professionals could help them achieve that.
Both the region and the world will benefit from the emergence of Cambodia as more stable Southeast Asian democracy. With the help of the people who understand proven campaign techniques, this could easily happen.