Open letter to Philip Ruddock

[Published by the Cambodia Herald on 10 March. Philip Ruddock holds an important position (“chief whip”) for the Liberal Party in the Australian parliament, and was previously immigration minister from 1996 to 2003. His remarks in parliament quoted below were reported in the Cambodia Daily on 8 March 2014.]

I was interested to read press reports of your recent comments on Cambodia and its elections.

In the 1980s, which I gather is the last time you visited Cambodia, it would probably be fair to describe Cambodia as a “one-party state”. (That is not necessarily a criticism of the one party, because at that time there were not many parties willing and able to take on, or even help with, rebuilding the country and fighting the Khmer Rouge, who were being supported by a number of powerful foreign governments.)

However, since 1993 Cambodia has had regular multiparty elections; in the most recent one, the opposition won a larger proportion of seats than was won by the Labor opposition in the last Australian election.

The report I read quoted you as saying that “the CPP being in government for such a long period” is what defines Cambodia as a “one-party state”. And it is true that the CPP has been in the government since 1993, although in the first mandate, 1993-98, it was the junior partner.

Twenty-one years is indeed a long time. But it is not as long as 23 years. Twenty-three years, from 1949 to 1972, was the length of time that the Liberal Party provided the government of Australia (without ever being the junior partner in a coalition). That’s the party you belong to. I guess Australia must have been a one-party state for all that time.

However, I do agree with you that Cambodian elections “do not always look the same as” Australia’s. Fortunately not.

As you may have heard, in the election last September that brought your party into government, the electoral authorities in the state of Western Australia somehow lost 1370 ballots for the state’s members of the Senate. This was discovered only because the official vote total was very close, and one of the candidates requested a recount. How many other ballots went astray in electorates where a recount was not requested, we will probably never know.

As if this were not enough to discredit the Australian electoral process, on 26 February the Guardian reported that the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) was looking into 19,000 cases where electoral records show that individuals voted more than once. In some instances, the individuals voted multiple times: the article mentioned instances of single persons voting 7, 9, 12 and 15 times.

According to the authorities quoted in the article, more than 8000 of the incidents “have been ruled out as official mistakes”, but what would you expect them to say?

Moreover, these scandals do not occur in a vacuum. In three elections during the period when Australia was a one-party state – in 1954, 1961 and 1969 – the opposition Labor Party won more votes than the Liberals, even in the official tally, but the Liberals were nevertheless awarded a majority of seats in parliament.

And these practices seem not to have died out then. After the Liberals were elected to government in 1996, in the first election under their rule, in 1998, the Labor Party won 51% of the two-party vote and the Liberals 49%. The result as declared by the AEC? The Liberals were awarded 80 seats and the opposition 67! (The Liberals also “won” government in 1940 with fewer votes than the Labor Party received. Only once, in 1990, when the difference between the parties was only 0.2%, did Labor win government with fewer votes than the Liberals.)

Given this history and the admitted scandals in the September election (who knows how many still hidden ones there are?), Australian citizens can have no confidence in the official results.

Therefore, as a patriotic Australian, I am seeking to popularise the demand for an impartial UN-supervised investigation of the irregularities in the September election. If such an investigation is established, it might use the assistance of Cambodian civil society organisations that have expertise in finding electoral flaws. You may even be funding some of them.

I hope you will join me in supporting the demand for an international investigation.

Yours for fair elections,
Allen Myers

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