Friday, September 20, 2013

Election Time in Cambodia

On July 28th, 2013, Cambodians went to the polls for only the fifth time in recent history.  In the months leading up to this important election, political analysts predicted that the current ruling party - the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), led by a man many consider to be a corrupt dictator - would retain power and little would change in Cambodia. But two weeks before the election, the exiled opposition leader returned to the country and the opposition party gained a burst of momentum.

On the evening of the 28th, as the results were trickling in, it seemed that the opposition party was ahead in most provinces. Cambodians were both elated and scared. Elated because perhaps their country would finally have the change many longed for, but scared because the CPP promised war if they lost. It was a tense evening with our phones ringing off the hook. Concerned friends asked us to stay inside, the city was surrounded by the military, and roads were closed. In the end, most of it was wild speculation and rumors by a population still wounded by a terrible civil war four decades ago.

Finally, on the morning of the 29th, it was announced that the ruling party had won the election. But the opposition party maintained that, in fact, they had won and that millions of votes had not been counted or had been stolen by the CPP. These unacceptable voting irregularities are now the rallying cry of the opposition.

Over the last two months the dissatisfaction of those who feel like their votes were not counted has increased.  The opposition has staged protests and mass demonstrations. The most recent occurred this last weekend. Tens of thousands of people swarmed Phnom Penh, gathered in a local park for a three day demonstration.  On Sunday the 15th, protesters and riot police clashed. The center part of the city was shut down with barricades and barbed wire. We followed twitter most of the day, seeing increasing reports of violence, culminating in a tragic death Sunday night.  Here is an excellent look at what happened in Phnom Penh last weekend as it unfolded.

If you don't have time to read all of the above link, this video is also an excellent summary and good glimpse into what the streets of Phnom Penh were like on Sunday. Sometimes it is hard for us to believe this actually happened.

All has been quiet the past few days. Both sides of the dispute came together at the request of the king of Cambodia to negotiate a peaceful resolution. Nothing has come of it so far. Pray for us as we talk with our Cambodian staff about what is happening in their country. The local news (controlled by the CPP) has not covered the protests, and many people did not even know what happened this past weekend. We are trying to encourage our staff to be aware and to pray for their own country as they learn more. More protests are planned for the coming week. Please continue to pray for Cambodia.