The Hun Sen guide to winning an election in Cambodia

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images Sunday’s victory by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) appears to be a landslide for Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power there for over two decades. The former Khmer Rouge guerrilla has elevated winning Cambodian elections to an art form, topping Cambodia’s four polls since elections began in ...

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593699_080728_hunsen5.jpg

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images

Sunday's victory by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) appears to be a landslide for Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power there for over two decades. The former Khmer Rouge guerrilla has elevated winning Cambodian elections to an art form, topping Cambodia's four polls since elections began in 1993. Here are some of his techniques:

1. Stoke the fires of nationalism: Hun Sen got a boost from a border dispute with Thailand over an 11th-century Hindu temple. After Cambodia's government secured re-election Sunday, the two countries agreed to pull back troops on Monday.

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images

Sunday’s victory by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) appears to be a landslide for Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power there for over two decades. The former Khmer Rouge guerrilla has elevated winning Cambodian elections to an art form, topping Cambodia’s four polls since elections began in 1993. Here are some of his techniques:

1. Stoke the fires of nationalism: Hun Sen got a boost from a border dispute with Thailand over an 11th-century Hindu temple. After Cambodia’s government secured re-election Sunday, the two countries agreed to pull back troops on Monday.

2. Ban beer: In the hope of ensuring a peaceful poll, authorities enforced an alcohol ban on Sunday. Reports say the election progressed “largely without incident.”

3. Deliver economic results: Construction, oil exploration, and tourism are driving an upstart Cambodian economy. For many voters, economic success trumps democratic aspirations — and Hun Sen happily takes credit for every piece of economic good news.

4. Rig the rolls: While the Cambodian People’s Party hasn’t shied away from outright violence to rig an election, this year’s polls have seen a more subtle effort from the ruling party. Hun Sen’s rivals claim the CPP deleted thousands of opposition supporters from voting lists.

5. Amend the constitution: A 2006 constitutional amendment replaced a requirement of a two-thirds majority to control parliament with a provision mandating only a simple majority. The CPP no longer needs the support of royalist party Funcinpec as a result.

6. When all else fails, control everything: Incumbents generally have the advantage, but after 23 years in power Hun Sen has entrenched his authority in all aspects of Cambodian politics. As Newsweek‘s Eric Pape sums up:

But given Hun Sen‘s near absolute control of Cambodian television, radio, the courts and the electoral structures that validate elections, any meaningful decline in his power would amount to a stunning blow.

Patrick Fitzgerald is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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