Recent elections in Cambodia and Zimbabwe highlight an important aspect of representational democracy: the influence of leaders who have been in power for many years who can use their resources to favour their own candidates and parties. In both countries opposition parties and national and international observers reported that electoral lists had been rigged and manipulated.
Zimbabweans went to the polls on 31 July to vote for a new president and parliament amid claims that the election could not be free and fair because the voting lists contained people who were dead, extremely old or duplicate names. On 28 July Cambodians went to the polls to find many people were not on the list although they voted in the previous elections, including the local election held last year; others found multiple names on the voter lists while many were given temporary voter cards by the local authorities and others appeared to have voted twice.
Neither election was blighted by violence or widespread intimidation at polling stations. Although that is to be welcomed, it should not be used as a reason for the people to herald these elections as fair.
In Zimbabwe the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, led by presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, condemned the elections. The African Union representatives monitoring the poll said it wanted more time to review the process but also that the incidents reported did not put “the elections in jeopardy."
In Cambodia the opposition also rejected the election. Transparency International Cambodia, which monitored the election and documented systematic and widespread irregularities, called for an independent investigation. This has not been agreed to yet and is being discussed by the disputed parties and the National Election Committee (NEC).
Resolving different opinions
Transparency International condemns the incidences of fraud and vote-rigging and calls on the election committees to review the evidence in both countries. So far this is not being discussed in Zimbabwe. In hotly contested elections that have far reaching effects on the people of a country, it is imperative that the results represent the will of the people.
The fact that the election in Zimbabwe took place before the voting lists could be fully verified will make this a difficult task. In the coming days, the government, the international observers and the members of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network must work together to deliver a result that has the public’s confidence. If this means re-running certain polls because the voter lists are flawed then this must be done.
In Cambodia if an independent investigation is undertaken, it can stop the protests that opposition parties have called for at the end of the month.
In Cambodia and Zimbabwe the ruling parties have been in power for decades: 28 years in Cambodia and 33 in Zimbabwe. They not only control the election process but the key institutions, such as the courts. This makes it even harder for opposition candidates to mount challenges to those that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
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Cambodia’s recent election results require an independent audit because of systematic voting irregularities.
When Zimbabweans go to the polls on 31 July, there is little chance that the elections will be free and fair.