Cambodia elections: Anti-Vietnamese overtones deepen racial divide

Analysts believe that the country's racial equilibrium will be disturbed by the elections in 2017 and 2018.

Picture for representation
Picture for representation Reuters

Cambodia's commune council elections, which are scheduled for 4 June 2017, are expected to assume anti-Vietnamese overtones and a dominant nationalistic colour, reports have said. Analysts believe that the country's racial equilibrium will be disturbed by this year's election and a general election in 2018.

"Marginalised ethnic Vietnamese could easily become a convenient political football in the coming elections. The opposition has already started playing the anti-Vietnam card, appealing to widespread anti-Vietnamese sentiment in the country," said John Coughlan, a researcher on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from Amnesty International, as reported by Channel News Asia.

Communal unrest

Vietnamese, in the Southeast Asian nation, are being targeted for quite some time now. In January, the opposition party, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), claimed that at least 2,500 foreigners, mainly from Vietnam, have used illegal means to get registered to vote in the upcoming polls. However, due to lack of evidence, National Election Committee dismissed the claim and also rejected the party's request to remove the foreigners' names from the provisional voter's list.

Some Cambodians also believe that Prime Minister Hun Sen has close ties with Vietnam and is a mere puppet in the hand of the rival country. Moreover, the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has also been criticised for alleged pro-Vietnamese policies. "Much of this anti-Vietnamese rhetoric is directed primarily at illegal migrants, but many people fail to recognise the distinction between illegal migrants and the stateless Vietnamese who are entitled to Khmer citizenship," said Minority Rights Organization (MIRO), as reported.

Cambodia has been trying to push out Vietnamese people who migrated to the country throughout the long history that both the countries shared. They fear that the foreigners are putting pressure on existing resources as well as slowing expanding their control, which is seen by many as a silent invasion. While at least 2,400 Vietnamese were uprooted from Cambodian soil and deported back their own country in 2016, 6,000 met with the same fate in 2015.


The question is if Cambodia's hatred against common Vietnamese people is justified. A large number of foreigners have been staying in Cambodia generations for generations and some are even survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide in 1970. However, several of them are denied basic rights, even birth registration documents, and are considered stateless.

Despite their prominent role in the political discourse, Vietnamese residents have no right to vote in Cambodia or to own land. Some of these people, like in floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake, are even denied access to education institute and healthcare facilities.

"Since 2015, almost 3,000 people have already gone to Vietnam. Things are quiet now but I think before the general election, the authorities will try to move us again," said Nguyen Tang Thong, an ethnic Vietnamese and resident of Koh Krobei village in Kampong Chhnang, as reported.

"They said if we stayed there, it'd cause pollution. They also promised to build a new market for us. Two years later, we still have nothing...They're going to push us to Vietnam, not just those in Kampong Chhnang but other ethnic Vietnamese living across Tonle Sap too. I don't have money to buy the land so I'll have to go to Vietnam. Many people will," he added.