Cambodians vote Sunday in the country’s fifth general election since 1993, when the United Nations helped stage the nation’s first free polls since the 1975-79 genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge and a subsequent period of civil war and one-party rule.
Here are key facts about the election:
VOTING: There are 9.7 million registered voters in a country of almost 15 million. Just over half the electorate is under 30 years old. Voter turnout in the last election in 2008 was 75.2 percent, down from 83.2 percent in 2003.
PARTIES: Eight parties are running candidates to fill 123 seats in the National Assembly, but only two — the Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party led by Sam Rainsy — are serious contenders. The ruling CPP holds 90 seats in the outgoing assembly.
PERSONALITIES: Hun Sen has been prime minister for 28 years. He was with the Khmer Rouge before defecting, and in 1985 was installed as prime minister by Vietnam, which had occupied Cambodia. With a reputation for cunning and ruthlessness, he insisted on being named co-prime minister despite his party losing the 1993 election, then ousted his partner in government in a 1997 coup.
Sam Rainsy spent the Khmer Rouge years in France, where he was educated in economics and political science. As a member of a royalist party, he served as finance minister in the government elected in 1993, but was kicked out from his party and his post for his outspoken anti-corruption stand. He founded his own party in 1995.
PROBLEMS: Nonpartisan election watchers say as many as 1.25 million people who should be eligible to vote may not be able to do so because their names are not on voter rolls. They also say a large number of names on the rolls do not appear to be valid. The opposition party claims that the ruling party’s control of the police, military and most local governments allows it to pressure voters, especially in rural areas out of the public eye.
ISSUES: Hun Sen touts his record on restoring peace and stability, and fostering economic growth. He fans fears of those who recall decades of war and unrest by warning that an opposition victory would unleash fresh strife. Sam Rainsy’s side attacks the government for corruption and failure to ensure justice for the poor and weak. It highlights the problem of land-grabbing, where well-connected cronies and companies take over land at the cost of evicting thousands. Rainsy’s reputation as a technocrat appeals to urban and educated voters whose rising expectations fuel a desire for change
WHAT’S AT STAKE: The CPP would like to maintain unchallenged authority to prepare to hand over power to a new generation, as many of its leaders are old and ailing. A son and a son-in-law of Hun Sen are among its candidates.
The CNRP needs to expand its foothold in parliament for its long-term growth in a hostile environment, where almost all media are controlled by the government.
Anticipated windfall revenues from offshore oil and gas deposits give the next government opportunities for both expanded development and greater corruption.