UN celebrates rare good news from Cambodia: Observers are delighted but puzzled at the failure of the Khmer Rouge to disrupt elections

THE United Nations-supervised election in Cambodia has gone far better than anyone dared to hope. Yesterday the polls closed after six days of voting, during which some 90 per cent of the country's 4.7 million registered voters - including the estranged brother of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot - cast their ballots.

Even the head of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac), Yasushi Akashi, was surprised at the lack of violence during the election, following the refusal of the Maoist Khmer Rouge and its bitterest enemy, the Phnom Penh government, to put down their arms. Despite scattered incidents, the Khmer Rouge failed to disrupt the voting as promised: everyone is now trying to fathom its motives.

The most obvious explanation is that the Khmer Rouge lacked the strength to carry out its threat. It would have been hard to guess this over the past few months, when the movement appeared to have no difficulty keeping pressure on Untac - forcing the peace-keepers, for example, to extend the voter registration period by a month. A senior Western diplomat argued, however, that the spate of violence over the past several months had been misleading.

According to his analysis, the Khmer Rouge is divided. Until the end of April the movement's more hardline faction had insisted that enough armed disruption would frighten Untac out of Cambodia. They would have been encouraged in this view by Mr Akashi's emollience, refusing to condemn the Khmer Rouge for all but its most blatant ceasefire violations and saying peace-keepers should avoid confrontation.

What this faction might not have bargained for was the UN's determination to press on with the election at almost any cost. Having stationed 22,000 personnel for more than a year in Cambodia, at a cost of dollars 2bn (pounds 1.3bn), the impact of a withdrawal on the organisation's credibility and future peace-keeping operations would have been unthinkable. When this became apparent, the diplomat said, the Khmer Rouge had to make a last-minute reassessment. Those who favoured a more subtle approach argued that the hardliners had failed, and widespread violence during the poll would drive more voters into the arms of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), Phnom Penh's political vehicle.

One Khmer Rouge source has been quoted as saying the new strategy was to encourage support for Funcinpec, the French acronym for the royalist party which backs the former monarch, Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Since a high poll was thought to favour the royalists, anything which disrupted voting would be self-defeating. Some 1,000 Khmer Rouge cadres, including a handful of top officers, actually voted.

This tactic also seems to have misfired. The pragmatists were relying on Prince Sihanouk's frequently-stated support for a government of national reconciliation, with Khmer Rouge participation. This would give the movement a share of power without having made any compromise with the peace process. But the prince has had to recognise that whether the CPP or Funcinpec comes out ahead, the one thing voters clearly do not want is the return of the Khmer Rouge. In classic fashion he has reversed his position: this week he was quoted by foreign visitors as saying the success of the election had erased the movement from Cambodia's future.

That may be premature, but the rush to vote has certainly increased the prospect of a stable government which would be able to contain, if not defeat, the Khmer Rouge. As if to deepen its isolation, the movement contrived to kill soldiers from China, its erstwhile backer, in two of its few recent attacks on Untac forces.

The UN still has a long way to go in Cambodia. The election victors, whose names will be known early next week, will not form a new government, but an interim assembly which will have three months to draw up a new constitution. Even without the Khmer Rouge, there is plenty of potential for a bloody collapse of the peace process: Prince Sihanouk remains unpredictable and the Phnom Penh government's willingness to yield power is untested. But this weekend Mr Akashi is entitled to feel that a dangerous moment for Untac is safely past.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
voicesBy the man who has
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?