Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Support Cambodian Elections

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Support Cambodian Elections

Article excerpt

Several weeks ago, I visited Washington to try to convince the United States government, particularly Congress, to moderate its attitude toward the current Cambodian government, and to offer moral and financial support for the nation's July 26 election - the most important in Cambodia's troubled history.

Today, in Washington, too many insist on demonizing the Hun Sen government without all the facts. The Cambodian people are the losers. An overwhelming majority of them want to vote in Cambodia's first self-administered election since the 1960s. Indeed, well over 90 percent of eligible Cambodians have registered as voters.

Refusing to accept the legitimacy of this - perhaps inevitably flawed - election and its results, would be yet another error in the US' three decades of wrong policy choices. At best, the US has offered a cold shoulder to Cambodia since political tensions escalated into violence last July - cutting off much-needed aid that could have helped Cambodia's National Election Commission to run a better election. In fact, the mini-war - not a coup - of July 1997 was the inevitable result of a progressive breakdown of Hun Sen's and Prince Ranariddh's willingness to govern Cambodia together. By late 1996, their shared government had dissolved into two armed factions on the brink of war.

In July 1997, after the decisive military defeat of the royalist forces around Phnom Penh, Cambodia could have found a new political equilibrium within the framework of the pluralist constitution set up by the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia. If the outside world had let it do so. But immediately, old stereotypes began again to govern Western perceptions and policy.

Unfortunately, it became imperative for the West to prop up the defeated Ranariddh as the noble freedom fighter, and to isolate and pressure the winner Hun Sen as the Stalinist dictator who was trying to restore communism in Cambodia. But the last 10 months have produced ample evidence to challenge both stereotypes. …

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