Australia Pledges Aid for Free Elections

Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang speaks during an interview with Cambodianess on the 70th anniversary of Cambodia-Australia diplomatic relations.Photo by Chhorn Sophat

Proper contests without intimidation needed: envoy

PHNOM PENH – Australia has pledged to keep helping Cambodia to hold democratic elections as commune and national ballots loom.  

Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang spoke to Cambodianess on the 70th anniversary of Cambodia-Australia diplomatic relations.

He said Australia and other development partners were paying greater attention to assisting Cambodia to ensure that the commune elections on June 5 and the national elections in July 2023 will be held in a democratic manner.

“There are a lot of focuses.  Now we do what we can, along with other countries that hold concern about these issues, to firstly encourage the government to hold elections that are free and fair,” Kang said.

The National Election Committee announced this month that around 17 parties had registered to compete for 11,622 commune council positions.

But as the election season approaches, there is increasing debate about whether the elections are likely to be free and fair. 

Kang said he had seen a promising sign with the top level of the Cambodian government speaking of efforts to facilitate the registration as well as activities of other political parties ahead of the elections.

“Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said a few things which we would encourage. For example, the registration process at commune level should be unimpeded, and other political parties should be allowed to put up their banner and signs as well as have their candidates talk freely and so on,” the ambassador said. 

But he said there were still differences in practice at the local levels, based on information the Australian embassy is receiving.

“So, I think top level’s message might not be going down to the ground level in all cases so this is something we continue to encourage the government to work on it,” he said.

There need, he continued, to be proper contestability in which people from all different political persuasions can run as candidates without encountering any harassment or intimidation. Moreover, other political parties can register in a usual way as well, according to Kang.

The Australian government had also been working on projects to provide further support for Cambodian civil society organizations as well as independent media to monitor the lead-up to the elections and the ballots themselves.

With this support, it was possible to come to a view about whether the elections are free and fair based on the democratic principles enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Multiparty democracy can be a burden or aspiration for Cambodia

 “If you look at article 1 of Cambodia’s constitution, it talks about the kingdom based on the multiparty principle. These are very fine words and the challenge is to ensure this is a reality,” Kang said.  

Other countries in the region don’t face as much of a challenge, given the difference in political systems.

“Even Cambodia’s immediate neighbors have different systems of government, maybe have one party or don’t have civil society to speak of, but they don’t have a constitution that talks about multiparty democracy.

“So, that is Cambodia’s burden to bear or it is an aspiration for Cambodia to live up to if I put it in a positive way,” Kang said. 

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