Grassroots

09.13.13

Cambodia's Women Call For Free And Fair Elections

After a voting season riddled with alleged voter fraud, activist Mu Sochua and her network of women plan to train female candidates to run in the country's next election.

“Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia”: Once a phrase commonly seen on banners in Phnom Penh, it has now taken to the streets.

Over a month after the 2013 general elections in Cambodia, planned demonstrations against the results are taking place worldwide. Following decades of civil war, with peace came ignorance, as the tiny nation lying south of Thailand was so often overlooked. After years of international disregard, Cambodia is slowly being placed back on the world’s political map, with democracy looming in the horizon.

Mu Sochua and the people of Cambodia are preparing for a series of mass demonstrations, contesting the results of unjust elections held by the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party, which has governed for almost 30 years. A series of protests have already arisen globally. Originating from the streets of Phnom Penh, Mu Sochua’s message, and the pleas of millions of Cambodians, have been reverberated in far-away continents. Mass protests have taken place at UN headquarters in Geneva, in Paris, and in Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles.The 2013 general elections have not only outraged millions of Cambodians, but also a worldwide audience—as well as a nation of women within Cambodia.

After a series of demonstrations within Cambodia, there is an ever-growing presence of women among Mu Sochua's supporters, who are becoming bolder with each demonstration.

Before returning to the capital, Mu Sochua had been training a troupe of women assembled from three surrounding provinces of Northern Cambodia—Siem Reap, Pailin, and Beantey Meanchey—to call for free and fair elections in Cambodia.

Fifty women of all ages gathered, all sharing a common goal—to lead the country to change and democracy in the next general elections, following the party’s four-year training program supported by Mu Sochua and the Cambodia National Rescue party. Their process is built around four steps: identifying women who would be suitable candidates; recognizing which women posses the most potential to succeed in office; investing in these women and offering training sessions to them, and making it official by asking women to join the party as candidates.

Phnom Penh
Protesters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on September 1, 2013. (Charlotte Pert)

This is a crucial leap forward for the women of the party. After the merging of the Sam Rainsy Party with the Human Rights party to form the CNRP, the number of women in the party had dropped. Therefore it was seen as a priority by Mu Sochua to train and empower more women to join her political entourage.

Aimed at training rural women as young as 19, the program offers chances and opportunities to women that may have previously seemed impossible. Now, they are all yearning to gain from Mu Sochua’ political wisdom, says SeungSopheap, 19. “I want to study about the rights of women and to join the party to know about the law and understand everything women can do for politics”

Striving for change and to make a difference, these young women wish to contribute to the democratic steps Cambodia is starting to take. “I just want Cambodia to be a recognized country that gives everyone rights, women their rights and give us the freedom to do anything we want” says YimThydaVotey, 20.

The first steps towards freedom lie in the upcoming series of mass demonstrations planned by the CNRP to contest the election results. In a society where women once lived as second-class citizens without a voice, women are now—with Mu Sochua's help—standing strong, fearlessly parading through the streets of Cambodia in protest.

The first demonstrations took place on September 7, after a spate of smaller demonstrations the month prior, which all aimed to educate the people in the practice of civil disobedience, following in the respectable footsteps of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King through non-violent resistance to the government. Contrary of the notion of a ‘Cambodian Spring,' which conjures up images of a violent uprising, Mu Sochua and the opposition are adamant on pursuing a peaceful fight for victory. As Mu Sochua has said, she is aiming “for the voters' demand for truth and justice to be met”

This year's elections may have been tainted with alleged fraud, but with the controversy surrounding them, they are paving the way for the next election, which surely will be Cambodia’s first free and fair election, reflecting a new state of democracy.

Whether Mu Sochua and her party win or loose the 2013 general elections, one thing is for certain… the next elections will not only be democratic, but will also see a swift increase in female participants. Regardless of the results and what is to come within Cambodia, with her band of women, Mu Sochua is moving forward.