A need for election monitors

[Published in the Phnom Penh Post on 13 August 2018.]

Now that Cambodia’s national elections have concluded peacefully, Cambodian politicians, civil society and other opinion leaders may be able to make an important contribution to the maintenance or development of democracy in other countries.

The United States is scheduled to hold elections for all of its House of Representatives and one-third of its Senate in November. The conditions under which these elections will be held are a matter of considerable and increasing dispute.

The opposition Democratic Party has accused legislators of the currently ruling Republican Party of manipulating electoral boundaries (“gerrymandering”) to the latter’s advantage. Many Democrats also charge that the Republicans have accepted illegitimate assistance from foreign countries, mainly Russia, and have violated traditional legislative rules in order to fill the courts with political allies.

On the other side, the Republicans accuse the Democrats of encouraging voting by people who are not US citizens or are disqualified from voting for other reasons. President Donald Trump has many times publicly proclaimed that 5 million foreign citizens voted illegally in the country’s 2016 election.

Furthermore, many aspects of US elections are conducted by computer systems whose operations are not at all transparent, and which may be subject to hacking.

In this polarised situation, it seems certain that whichever party fares less well in the November elections will denounce the result as illegitimate, which can only increase the level of mutual hostility.

But perhaps Cambodia could help to defuse the situation, even if only a little, by providing monitors to observe and report on the conduct of the upcoming elections.

Of course, it is too late for monitors from Cambodia or any other countries to push for changes in US laws that often allow a minority of voters to elect the President or a majority of the House of Representatives and Senate, especially since both major parties seem to regard these undemocratic provisions as sacrosanct.

However, the presence of impartial Cambodian and other monitors might help to give the US elections a legitimacy that would otherwise be denied by the losing side.

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