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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor