MegaMillions? No, the 2008 Parliamentary Elections in the Kingdom of Cambodia –
Cambodian female's finger dipped in ink after voting 2008

The 2008 Parliamentary Elections in the Kingdom of Cambodia

How the ruling Cambodian People’s Party Won

(To skip down to my personal diary during the elections click here)


The word elections is synonymous with democracy and the free will of a nation. However, elections have been used by totalitarian regimes to legitimatize rule or have had a destabilizing effect on a struggling nation. The 2008 National Assembly Elections in the Kingdom of Cambodia appeared to have a little of both. To the international community it was a measure of progress, but with a baseline the former Khmer Rouge regime, any functioning government seems acceptable today. To the people of Cambodia, it was choice between two evils, instability or the status quo of a ruling one-party sate. The current government headed by Hun Sen of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), was well aware of what was at stake, completely capable of influencing the elections in many legal and illegal ways, and understood the mentality of the Cambodian population. The techniques used to remain the dominant party, albeit by legitimate elections, will be the focus of this paper.

The traditional Cambodian system of rule, is not based on the standard well known legal systems. Khmer Law is based on customary agreement which is to be binding rather rooted in Roman law or Chinese administration practices.1 It is essential to comprehend it is a paternal system, the rulers knowing what is best for the “children” of the nation and those ruled accepting this relationship in order to benefit from the autocratic mechanism.2 With this understanding, one can proceed to analyze the methods of control used by the CPP to steer the election results.

From the rice paddies to the capital, the history of Cambodia’s elections has been marred with pre and post election violence. In the 1960’s, King Norodom Sihanouk, was fed up with the constitutional monarchy system in place, abdicated the throne and ran for office. The actual election process involved choosing a candidate by picking up a ballot with their name on it and depositing it in a ballot box outside the polls. Only the king’s ballot had his portrait printed on them and with most peasants illiterate, the choice was simple. If one exited the polls without the royal portrait in hand, the soldiers stationed outside proceeded in beating the defiant.3 Needless to say the results were a landslide victory. Another example was in 1997, when election results went against the ruling CPP, a military coup ensued. The winning majority party, FUNCINPEC, was basically hunted down and the masses learned their political system was not mature enough to tolerate power sharing. From the polling booths to the parliament building, the democratic process has tainted with violence.

The first successful elections were those financially supported by the United Nations in 1993.4 Decades of turmoil preceded this historic and expensive event. It took five years of rule by incompetent American-backed General Lon Nol, three years of genocide by the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, followed by the 1978 Vietnamese invasion leading to 15 years of civil war before this was implemented. The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), an international force of 22,00 military and civilian personnel at a cost of 1.62 billion US dollars, lead the negotiations for and oversaw the election process in which 4 million Cambodians participated.5 In terms of value it was $405 per vote cast, three times the per capita GDP, but involved a painstaking process of negotiation.6 In comparison planting modern democracy without diplomacy and by bayonet is far more expensive. Estimating the total cost for the US-Iraqi War II divided by eligible voters, exceeds $50,000US per ballot casting Iraqi citizen.7

The CCP is well versed in domestic and international politics. Since its inception in 1978, it has cut its teeth and its well oiled machinery affects every aspect of Cambodian life. The entire civil service, military and police forces are loyal to Hun Sen’s government. This is important factor because when international opinion pressures the government to act, they can easily enforce policies to give the appearance of cooperation. The world community says help the homeless, the government rounds them up and imprisons them in rural interment camps. Foreign nations request a reduction in prostitution on the city streets, the police arrest all the streetwalkers and hide (and abuse) them in jail. Problem solved, non-government organizations and foreign embassies content, the money flows. This election millions of dollars in foreign aid and investment were at stake. The one-party state stands more to loose than just political power, the corruption payments, from both Cambodians poor and international affairs, are a substantial source of income for the entire civil service. Before discussing the methods of manipulations to ensure a favorable elections, the identifying the man watchdog group and the potential losses if their supporting donors organizations are not placated.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) states it’s mission as, “to help to create an informed and favorable democratic climate.”8 A non-governmental organization operating free of government influence is partnered with eleven domestic NGOs. The venture gave COMFREL the ability to place 10,000 election observers in over 60% of the polling stations.9 Financial supporting donors include the British Embassy, Danish Embassy, German Embassy, People of Japan, TroCAIRE. Norwegian People’s Aid, Oxfam Netherlands, Forum Syd, and US Agency for International Development (USAID).10 COMFREL’s observations and conclusions tie in not only with the donors but the additional post-election foreign aid packages for 2008 their nations represent.

Examples of Financial Aid Packages and

the Importance of Placating Election Observer Sponsors

Supporting Organization

Potential Foreign Aid Donor

Planned 2008 Aid

German Embassy

Germany (#2 market for Cambodian exports)11


People of Japan




United States (#1 market for Cambodian exports)


Note: All figures in current US dollars and represent grants not loans.

The regulations regarding aid have been modified in the 21st Century and often is withheld, as it was by USAID in 2006, due to human rights violations.14 Most Western funded projects are considered high-profile and focus on issues in the urban sector. Sidetracking to two other international players with find a striking contrast in their support for the elections and aid. The Russia Federation sent eleven election observers and produced a short statement on how flawless the elections were.15 Moscow also gives close to zero aid and assistance to Phnom Penh other than exchanging diplomats and cultural programs. The People’s Republic of China, celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations with Cambodia, donates aid towards rural projects and infrastructure development which is often ignored by the West. In 2006 Beijing dumped $600 million worth of aid into development and in 2008 pledged another $280 million.16 Beijing’s unconditional access to these funds has no relevance to issues such as human rights or social improvements.

Once again the government of Cambodia is once again following a neutral stance in international affairs. Historically Cambodians are hard bargainers. Often they compromise on middle ground, a cultural aspect influenced by their Buddhist background, and in this case are trying to milk both sides. Is it an intelligent move or just rhetoric to hide the inability to progress forward and deal with its problems? The last time it postured as a neutral state and did little to address the disparity between rich and poor, the atrocious Khmer Rouge assumed power. And in the event the elections resulted in a transition of power, a slaughter of the CPP would most likely occur. Cambodian ideals about revenge are unique in that they will simmer for a lifetime.

The CPP was not the only group concerned with a successful outcome. For the past 10 years Cambodia has rebounded. Less violence and economic progress have filtered into society. Though many millions of Cambodians are still living on one US dollar a day, their mindset must prefer scratching out a living without the threat of bullets flying over head. Although corrupt, the government does provide functional stability. If in the event CCP lost the elections, the entire politically appointed civil service would have to be rebuilt and retrained. Cambodia does not have the financial and human resources to address such a challenge.

Unfortunately, voter participation has been on the decline with each election cycle. The 1993 Elections had a voter participation rate of 97%, the 2008 results were 57%. Apathy has not reduced nationalism of the once great Khmer nation. In recent months, a border dispute with Thailand has been used by the CPP to distract media attention to the crisis and avoid airtime being spent on election issues. In addition to nationalistic fever as a political tool, a deep cultural issue afflicts the minds of the Cambodian people. As Buddhists, they accept their impoverished and persecuted fates with a belief that what the receive in life is what the deserve. The rich rulers, to an average uneducated Cambodian, were better in their past lives and deserve the fortunes. The poor on the other hand must silently accept their fate in this lifetime.17

With the stakes set and mindsets now understood, how exactly did the CPP manipulate the elections in their favor yet satisfy the international and domestic parties that kept a watchful eye? With full control over all aspects of daily life using an extremely well-oiled politically loyal civil service, the CPP focused on the following areas:18

  • Voter list manipulation– Voters are notified with a registration card of the eligibility to vote, yet only 85% received there cards. NEC officials often intentionally removed names of political opponents from the voter registry, then claimed that a few mistakes were made. In urban areas where opposing parties had strongholds of supporters, many people arrived at the polling stations to find their names not on the list. Yet they possessed confirmed voter registry cards confirming eligibility. This was the highest profile example reported by all observer groups.19 Additionally, the number of eligible voters exceeded the actual number of registered voters. Deceased individuals names were used and fake identification papers issued so that people could vote at two different locations.20 This could only be accomplished by using local commune chiefs and district officials who issue such documents.21

  • Political Influence of Judiciary– The legal framework for complaints and irregularities in election procedures affected mostly pre-election cases. Disputes could be tied up in courts until after the elections had been certified as legitimate.

  • Partisanship of election and civil administration officials at all levels– Political rallies and meetings were supposed to be open and balanced. City governments could disperse meeting and declare rallies illegal due to lack of permits, even though election laws state otherwise. Civil and military personnel were not supposed to use government resource in supporting any political parties. Often government vehicles were covered with CPP logos and slogans. These vehicles were also used to transport supporting voters to the polls on election day.

  • Media access before and during the election campaign– Equal access to the media to inform the electorate of their political message is guaranteed under the law. Television and radio increased programming about Hun Sen and the CPP. By filling airtime with stories about all the progress in Cambodia lead by the ruling party, the actually airtime left to sell to other political parties was decreased. The CPP did slightly lead in actual media access but it also had the financial resources to accomplish this.

  • Lack of will to acknowledge and resolve election violations- Often civil authorities would not pursue allegations due to lack of evidence. An accusation, in their minds, was not enough to do a costly investigation. This included not only the violation of election laws but violence and intimidation.

  • Night of the Barking Dogs– There is a cooling off day before election when all campaigning is supposed to stop. At midnight, CPP controlled commune chiefs typically go around handing out gifts and money to buy votes. Hence, the dogs sounding their approach after dark. Alcohol sales are also banned the day before and on election day.

  • Cambodia’s electoral system– CPP ‘won’ 58% of the popular vote, got 73% of the seats. Opposing parties long have requested a change in election laws for a more pluralistic representation of voting preferences. The CPP which controls the rubber stamp in the legislature has not move on this proposal. The remaining seats were fought over by ten other political parties.22

  • Freedom of Speech– Criticizing government is a threat to civil order and can lead to fines and imprisonment. Politicians who accuse the government of corruption or use harsh words, can be viewed as dangerous, and the government responds to what they deem appropriate. In one case, an opposing candidate called the government “thieves” and was fined $2,500US, which over five times the average yearly income.23

  • Unsolved Crimes– Though the pre-election murder and violence rates have dropped ten fold since 1993, they are often investigated as robberies and not thoroughly pursued. It sends a clear message to opposing parties.

  • Military and police as intimidation tools– Arresting political opponents without warrants. The CPP could send a message to the opposition by just having them spend a few days in jail. Journalists that opposed the government also faced intimidation if they did not tone down their accusations.

  • Party defection– CPP officials openly proclaimed they are the ones with the money and the jobs. The approached opposing candidates promising defection would ensure a seat in parliament. By targeting opponents with strong followings, they siphoned votes and reduce the moral of poorer political parties. As election day neared, defections increased.

By tweaking all of the above aspects to win, the CCP did not go too far in upsetting election observers. Although all this was well documented and the entire process was not totally free and fair, the actual election day process went smoothly with minimal violations. The skeleton of the desired democratic process left only the hope for future improvements in pre-election activities. One can only predict that after the post-election foreign aid is received, the CPP will start turning up the heat on its political opposition and ignoring opinions from the outside world. Opposition parties who declared the results invalid, soon rejected their claims after realizing hopelessness of the situation. Surely more party defections will result in efforts to gain pieces of the economic pie. The CPP with a stamp of legitimacy and domestic stability maintained, kept the status quo in a land of the ultra rich and extremely poor. As evidenced by history, a true stable democracy can not exist unless a developed middle class has a stake in an election outcome. Cambodia’s future is walking the same myopic path that lead to its return to year zero in 1975.

1 Raoul M. Jenner. The Cambodian Constitutions 1953-1993 (Bangkok: White Lotus, 1995), viii.

2 This ancient tradition is repeating itself, soon 10% of the population will own 90% of the land. Washington Times.

“Cambodia ‘Waking Up’ to Development.” (Washington DC: April 18th, 2008.)

3 David P. Chandler. The Tragedy of Cambodian History- Politics, War, and Revolution since 1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).

4 Election day is actually peaceful in Cambodia. The months leading up to it is when the political intrigue and unsolvable murders talk place.

5 HIV AIDS imported by the UN Security Forces, combined with an estimated 10,000 imported prostitutes from Vietnam, has decimated Cambodian society and will be a UN legacy for decades to come.

6 CIA .Fact Book 1993. (Washington DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 1993.)

7 Amy Belasco. “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11”.

(Washington DC” CRS Report for Congress, September 22nd, 2006).

8 Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia. “Final Assessment and Report on the 2008 National

Assembly Cambodian Elections” (Phnom Penh: COMFREL, October 20th, 2008), 4.

9 Ibid. 5.

10 Ibid. 111.

11 Auswärtiges Amt. “Cambodia Economic Relations.” (Berlin: German Federal Foreign Office, May 2008).

12 Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany. “Germany and Cambodia Sign New Agreements on Technical and Financial Cooperation.” (Phnom Penh: German Embassy, August 13th, 2008).

13 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. “Exchange of Notes in Fiscal Year 2008.” (Tokyo: September 2008).

14 Thomas Lum. “U.S. Foreign Aid to East and South Asia: Selected Recipients.” (Washington DC: Congressional Research Service RL31362, May 1st, 2008), 13.

15 Close examination of the Russian Press Release reveals it was released the day after the election and contained no references to actual events. It can be perceived as a previously written generic political statement. Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Kingdom of Cambodia. “Report of the Election Observer Team of the Russian Federation.” (Phnom Penh: July 28th, 2008).

16 Sebastian Strangio. “Chinese Delegation Arrives for Trade, Aid Talks with Ruling CPP.” (Phnom Penh: Phnom Penh Post, November 17th 2008).

17 David Hill. Dos & Don’ts in Cambodia. (Bangkok: Book Promotion and Service Co., Ltd., 2005)

18 Ibid, 19-57.

19 In addition to COMFREL’s 10,000 observer force, the EU and UN sent 300, The Russia Federation sent 11.

20 I personally witnessed one man leave a polling station cleaning his finger the ink of his finger and drive to another polling station. I followed him and he proceeded to enter another station and vote a second time. For additional witnessed violation please see Appendix I.

21 See Appendix III.

22 See Appendix II.

23 Mom Konthear. “NEC plans bid to fine Sam Rainsy for slur.” Phnom Penh: Phnom Penh Post, November 27th, 2008.


Experiencing the 4th Cambodian Parliamentary Elections as a Foreign National Observer.

Traveling to a far off exotic land to take part in the political process of a nation stumbling out of three decades of civil strife does not make the top list of priorities for many graduate students. However, after previous experience there, plenty of research, and a small network of Cambodian friends, I decided to investigate volunteering as a neutral election observer in the 4th Parliamentary Elections in the Kingdom of Cambodia set for July 27th, 2009. Personal connections from teaching summer school at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in 2007 assisted me by sponsoring my application. Not to be confused with UN or EU Election Observation Organizations, The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), the national organization of volunteers, was the shield under which I volunteered. With a fist full of dollars (the de facto currency of the Kingdom) from selling my car and an apprehensive grin, alone I journeyed off towards towards my favorite type of travel- the unexpected.

Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia is well known for the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat, a contrast between rich and poor, and nearby abundance of mine fields.

The joy of traveling as volunteer is enhanced by the tax deduction for travel expenses incurred. After a mundane flight to Phnom Penh and a weekend to recover on the beach in Sihanoukville, I boarded a bus for Siem Reap, the ancient capitol of the Khmer nation. The six hour ride of karaoke videos, blaring air horn duels, and the smell of locals munching dried fish was uneventful. It was nice to be alone after my friends back in Phnom Penh kept trying to find me a nice wife. My decision to observe the elections in SR were two fold, it is one of the poorer of Cambodian kai (provinces) and also the birthplace of the Khmai Serey (Free Khmer), the resistance movement against French colonial occupation. Arriving in one piece, I stayed with an expatriate from Texas well versed in the corruption and the whiter side of life in Siem Reap. In exchange for a free room and board, I had to haul 30 kilos of vitamins, motorcycle parts, and swimming pool test chemicals 9,400 miles. Unfortunately, where I was staying just east of downtown, my mobile phone failed to lock onto a network, so I would be working the elections in a dead zone.

Basic All-Weather All-Terrain Foreign Election Observer transportation.


The upside is none of my Khmer “friends” could call me with sad stories trying to borrow money (usually from $100 to $500). My host arranged my personal transportation for the week, a Honda 250 dirt bike (a total surprise as I brought no safety gear) plus a meeting with the friend of a friend who knew the locations of the polling stations. And finally, my Texas pal jokingly assured me, he was a personal friend with the chief of police, so if I disappeared during my stint as an observer, for a hundred US dollars the chief would be able to locate my body.





One of my uninvited roommates during the elections.An outdated model probably left by KGB agents back in the 1970’s.

Holding this wonderful thought, let’s drift back to the volunteer training a few days before at the COMFREL offices in Phnom Penh. I remembered the last sheet of information handed to us when we shuffled out the door. The memo, which had small cartoons of people smiling while chatting merrily on the telephones, explained the text message codes to be used on election day. We were instructed to send a short coded message if an observed event warranted instant notification of the home office. This seemed very quaint until one read the categories of cases codes: K – killing, AK – attempted killing, V – violence, I – intimidation, and many more. My favorite was the longest code: VLR&P, because I can’t imagine trying to remember it during a riot with 4 hours of training under my belt after a 30 hour flight across 12 time zones in 90% humidity on a 100°F day. I can see ducking behind a pillar in a Buddhist temple, shouting for people to hold there fire, so I could pull out my notes and phone to send a message. Then it dawned on me, MGDPDWH! (My @#$ damn phone doesn’t work here), no sending codes in a firefight, what a relief. Then the grandest of all problems, I couldn’t call my mother on her birthday while being out here. Hiding the fact I went to Cambodia to her was one thing but this… I was doomed. During the last elections, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had mobile phone text messaging system disabled, so why was I even concerned?

Election Observer Credentials- friend or foe?

Overall, the training by COMFREL in Phnom Penh was very well presented, detailed, and interesting. The staff was highly motivated and the other 40 international volunteers at my session were very friendly. After free CS-900 certified bottled water and cookies, we were handed easy-to-target bright white tee shirts, laminated photo ID badges, and applauded for our participation.

The day before the elections I scouted three polling locations east of the river in a poor section of Siem reap, but for clarity will keep my discussion to the events at Wat Damnak.1 Arriving at 6:00AM, I positioned myself 20 meters in front of the NEC Headquarters building from where I could observe three polling stations. I was in the weapons free zone between the armed security units and the actual polling stations. Observing the set up procedures, I was fascinated by the seriousness and professionalism of the NEC officials and COMFREL volunteers.2 It was obvious everyone involved had multiple training sessions and knew exactly what he or she was doing. I was the only “barang” (foreign) observer insight.


Most small arms carried by RCAF looked like the Chinese AK Type 56-2 model.

The atmosphere lacked tension and it was comforting that everyone in the commune knew four words of English. “Hello, how are you?” (due to a popular telecommunication company TV ad) followed by a grin, was the only intelligible communication with the general public. My proudly worn photo ID was supposed to guarantee my safety as I could request assistance if threatened. However, the election security forces, two policemen and three soldiers, armed with folding stalk Kalashnikovs, were unaware of the magic four English words and had forgotten how to smile. The chief NEC official, scurrying around like a starving gecko near a 40 watt light bulb, was also the only grumpy guy in the province. He was always staring at me like I was “not from around here.” All in all, it did not seem too bad parked on a cement bench in the shade sipping a bottle of water that was hopefully CS-900 certified as I forgot to check.

National Election Committee office for this polling station. The man on the far right was the chief official and was eager to let everyone know


It seems my scouting location was perfect as a hub for activity, at least for the fastest giant ants I had ever seen in my life. They were friendly, didn’t bite but continuously covered me like lights on a blinking Christmas tree. As the crowds of sleepy eyed Khmers rolled in on their Japanese-brands of Vietnamese-assembled scooters, I stood out less and less. The sea of parked scooters made it easy to stroll around while watching activity behind me through the mirrors. My only backup unit, a St. Michael the Archangel medallion, probably lost its protective powers once the plane touched down in a Buddhist land. Karma I acquired since touch down was all I had left in support. Everything was going according to my training until the goon squad arrived.

One of the greatest forms of flattery is imitation, yet it can also be the most comical. The general area I selected to observe was also the one chosen by the goons. Around eight Cambodian men sporting baseball caps, gold rimmed Ray Bans and gold wristwatches assembled approximately 15 meters from my ant-infested bench seemed to be impersonating the fattest one of the bunch, who looked like the stereotypical third world general. The respect they showed indicated his status. They were paying close attention to who was arriving and then began paging through their notebooks. As the droves of family ladened scooters arrived to the polling station they paid no mind to the goon squad. Everyone lined up peacefully while remaining quiet at the three stations. Typically, there never was more than 50 people in one line throughout the morning. Something seemed a little staged.

Commune Chiefs (supposed CPP members) relative position to the snoozing security forces. Notice on the left an individual writing in the notebook keeping “score”, while on the right the RCAF is few hours into nap time.

As I witnessed everyone exiting the polling stations, they always grinned in amazement when looking at his or her purple index finger. This indicated to me the journey here was definitely worthwhile. Often I observed the brightest post-ballot smiles from single women with their young adult children participating as a unit. On the other hand, the married women accompanying their husbands, were often more subdued in displaying personal joy. I was soon to understand why. As I had learned in my previous year’s trip to Cambodia, nothing here analyzed through Western eyes can be accepted at face value. The truth of what was happening, or enlightenment as I like to call it, was to reveal itself as the long hot day progressed. My photographing Rose leaving the polls caused a slight rift with the head NEC official. As I requested a historic snapshot and congratulated her, the NEC chief ran out of his office, waived his hands and yelled, “No interviews, no interviews!” I said, “No problem, just saying hello to a friend.” He frowned and strutted away. I then checked the rule book and our conversation was within the guidelines as I had not talked politics. It wasn’t worth pointing it out to the NEC cadre.

My new friend Rose, an English-speaking local displays the post-ballot finger.

Throughout the day I strolled around the polls, smiled at the crowds, and tried my best to look official. Occasionally I would check the back of the buildings to see if any ballot boxes were coming in and out of the windows. These scouting missions offered opportune moments of relieving myself in a manner completely acceptable by Cambodia society. The probes gave me a chance to better watch the goon squad. Oddly, they stayed put all day, except for the leader who randomly cruised in and out on his scooter. Each time he left he would toss his notebook in the scooter’s front basket. All the goons had notebooks and I began to covet one. When most villagers left the polls they reported over to the goon squad. A brief conversation would take place, always lacking the traditional Cambodian sompay (greeting while bowing with hands clasped), then a goon would mark something in his notebook. Something was not right, there was no intimidation going on, but all had to pass the goon squad departing. Strangely attired women arrived and chatted with this group. On closer viewing I realized they were working gals that one passes while going into downtown. What a sight they all were.

The highly motivated Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) keep a watchful eye out for possible disruptions to the election process.

The security forces provided for the event did not have the stamina of the NEC and COMFREL folks. After eating their Styrofoam encased lunches, they slowly began gravitating to a central tactically vulnerable position not to far from the goon squad. An hour after lunch the tropical heat began to settle in. In response the three soldiers strung up hammocks, leaned their AK’s up against a small shed, and secured their weapons by draping their shirts over the barrels. From my vantage point I could not see if the magazines were still in, but with the weapons over seven meters away, I can’t imagine their usefulness in the event of trouble. Within a few moments the soldiers were sound asleep and the two police officers had taken horizontal refuge on a nearby temple floor. My dream for winning a Pulitzer Prize for capturing an historical event drifted away like the smoke from a stick of incense.

With a lull in the action and reduced crowds I drove out of the temple complex to find some lunch. At the gates were rows of eating stations and a makeshift scooter repair shop. It was not that I drove up as an international observer or the fact that I was on a huge motorcycle by Cambodian standards that caused a commotion. It was my marital status.

Rule number 1- Be careful of what one wishes for when in a “Kingdom.”

For all they have been and are going through, the Cambodians are a fun bunch. Soon their curiosity and humor commenced. The family and friends at the stall were I sat would ask a question then laugh uncontrollably at my answer. My being a student, my age, my income level, my light colored eyes, all became the objects of their jokes. Then the big question, ”Meun brapoun nou USSA?” (Do you have a wife in the USA?) and then silence… I jokingly answered, “Baat tay, k’nyom jong baan brapoun Khmai!” (No, I want a Khmer wife!).3 Did they ever howl and I had to join in the wave of laughter. I had no idea that in saying it future events would possibly make it a self-fulfilling statement. After finishing my pork chop that was fried hours before yet kept warm by the tropical sun and bowl of ramen noodles made with questionable water, I crossed the street to watch the world go by.

A bugle sounds the retreat!

Suddenly, the goon squad’s generalissimo pulled up near the temple complex gates. He dismounted, pulled his notebook out of the front basket, and got on his transceiver radio for a few minutes of banter. Over the course of thirty minutes approaching families would stop by and the head of household, always a male, would shake his hand. After the longer than usually Western style greeting, the husband would put his hand in a pant pocket to deposit something handed to him. Then the generalissimo would hand him a pen. With this, the man would write something on the left palm of all the family members that looked old enough to vote. Most likely it was a party’s ballot number as to remind them which party to vote for on the ballot. The right hand was left clean as it is the one exposed to NEC officials when dipping the index finger in the inkwells. Suddenly that notebook of the generalissimo really became an obsession.

One of two other stations in my region. The obvious lack of shade was a deterrent to spending much time here.

Throughout the day I would return to the same spot to obtain bottled water and occasionally witnessed more shenanigans. I was there to observe and not to enforce rules so I just kept taking notes. When it was absolutely boring, I would drive to two other polling locations to make my international presence known. Back at Wat Damnak, about an hour before the polls closed, there was a sudden retreat of the goon squad. Like rats off a ship, first the generalissimo, and then remaining goons, flung their notebooks into the scooter baskets and zipped off in all directions. About 2 minutes later, up pulled the UNDP’s air-conditioned SUV. Out came two UN

UNDP arrives in air-conditioned style.

representatives who immediately walked over to me. They had a Khmer crew of two, a translator and a driver who was attired like the recently departed generalissimo. The man was from Liberia and the woman from Japan. She kept nodding and smiling while I conversed with the male UN rep. He seemed stunned when I told him my story- sold a car to buy an airline ticket and went off to the middle of nowhere to observe the elections as part of my education. He kept saying, “By yourself, by yourself…” I reported the few incidents I witnessed and how the goon squad scattered moments before their arrival. Then I noticed the driver had a radio, so did the Generalissimo- so the goon squad must have been tipped off to the UN approach.

Forrest, Run! The last vote in the Kingdom!

After 20 minutes they drove off. The dust from their departure mixed with the swarming flies made it feel like the day was ending. The last exciting moment happened a minute or two before the polls closed. An elderly woman came awkwardly running to the polling station. Khmers rarely move quickly, so I had to settle for a Kodak moment rather than a Pulitzer Prize. Her task complete the counting began and I observed for another 20 or so minutes. At that point with ut a prize winning photograph. I decided to head into town and do something illegal. Alcohol sales are banned the day before and on election day in Cambodia, yet it did not hinder foreigners from being served. I proudly headed to downtown Siem Reap and upstairs at the Funky Munky began my research. The topic I chose- why does the Angkor Beer Brewing Company use the slogan, “My Country, My Beer!” Someone should send them a memo explaining they are located in a kingdom. “My Kingdom, My Beer” sounds much more macho.

1Wat is Cambodian for temple. Usually a walled complex with many buildings functioning as the hub of the community.

290% of the Cambodians working at the polling stations seemed young, between 18 and 25 years of age.

3Cambodians typically pronounce USA as USSA, probably because they had heard of the USSR and thought two S’s appropriate. No one had heard of Texas, but when I tacked on the word cowboy, they seemed to get the idea.


Eleven parties made the ballot, though not all districts fielded candidates to fill parliamentary seats. This is not an actual ballot, it is the lottery results for ballot order determined on May 30th, 2008.1

1Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia. “Final Assessment and Report on the 2008 National Assembly Cambodian Elections” (Phnom Penh: COMFREL, October 20th, 2008), 95.



Cambodian Identification Used For Voting: Valid and Suspect.

Illustration 1: National Identification Card

In the event a voter was without proper identification, local officials could issue a Form 1018. This could be modified to give a person two separate identities. Illustration 1 is a valid national id card.1 Illustration 2 has two problems.2 The validation stamp does not align with the photograph and was pulled from another document. Also, the information lists the individuals born in the Streung Commune of the Santuk District. This commune is located in the Sambor District.


Illustration 2: Suspect Form 1018.


1 Scanned copy obtained voluntarily from Cambodian citizen.

2 Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia. “Final Assessment and Report on the 2008 National Assembly

Cambodian Elections” (Phnom Penh: COMFREL, October 20th, 2008)


Auswärtiges Amt. “Cambodia Economic Relations.” Berlin: German Federal Foreign Office, May 2008.

Belasco, Amy. “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since

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