Cambodia has not held local elections of any kind since the late 1960s, when only candidates from then-Prince Sihanouk's ruling Sangkum Reastr Niyum party could run for office. Commune elections, originally slated to be held after 1993 national parliamentary elections overseen by the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), were repeatedly delayed. The 1993 elections and post-election political maneuvering resulted in a fragile coalition government between the CPP and the royalist Funcinpec Party that collapsed in a coup four years later. In 1998, a second parliamentary election was narrowly won by the CPP over Funcinpec, which was given a junior role in a new coalition. Cambodia's national political opposition is currently provided by the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), which holds fifteen out of 122 seats in the National Assembly.
Cambodia has 1,621 communes, which are administrative units consisting of four to seven villages. Prior to the 2002 elections, commune leaders, who are particularly influential at the local level, were appointees of the CPP, and many had been in position since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Under the commune election system, they were replaced for the first time with popularly elected commune councils and commune chiefs. As well as marking an important step in the development of democratic institutions in Cambodia, the commune elections may set the tone for national elections slated for May 2003. They were also the first polls to be conducted during a time of relative peace, and thus could have important ramifications for Cambodian democracy, rule of law and human rights.