Our region is a little more democratic today than it was a week ago. Sunday's election in Cambodia was hotly contested. Despite opposition complaints, international monitors have declared that voting was generally honest. Fears that authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen would steal the election proved mostly unfounded. In fact, a united opposition dealt the long-time strongman a severe and unexpected setback that completely changed Cambodian politics.
It also will bring changes, subtle or overt, in Cambodia's foreign policy. The opposition has strongly criticised the country's close relations with Vietnam, even accusing Hun Sen of being a puppet of Hanoi. It has adopted a nationalist stance, an important difference to the policies of Hun Sen. Where the prime minister has sought peaceful relations with Thailand, the opposition will push for a more aggressive stance on contentious issues such as the Preah Vihear temple dispute.
The surprise showing of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was encouraging in many ways. For one thing, it showed an enthusiasm of Cambodians for politics, and thus for their future. It has been 34 years since Hun Sen rose to prominence as the world's youngest foreign minister. He has been ensconced in the prime minister's office for 28. Few politicians can stay in power for that long without exposing flaws.
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