Two international groups have charged that the nation’s electoral process is so flawed that free and fair elections are impossible—with only six weeks left before the polls.
Human Rights Watch Asia and the International Crisis Group, in separate statements this week, urged the international community to apply economic and diplomatic pressure to delay the polls.
“With only six weeks left before the scheduled polling, there is no chance that a deeply flawed and rushed electoral process will help Cambodia either establish democracy or bring an end to disruptive military activities,” Human Rights Watch said in a report scheduled to be released today.
In the four-page document, Rights Watch is sharply critical of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which it says has conspired to “control the electoral process and restrict basic freedoms.”
“In addition to monitoring opposition party members, [the CPP] is following the activities of groups it considers politically suspect,” Rights Watch wrote. It mentioned trade union members, political refugees who have returned from Thailand and students and academics as being targeted by the CPP.
The International Crisis Group said that establishing a neutral atmosphere for voters before the scheduled July 26 elections is “a pipe dream.”
“Unless progress is made in improving conditions before polling day, opposition parties are likely to opt out of the whole process, staying away from the campaign, instructing their supporters to boycott the poll and rejecting the final outcome,” said the 36-page report, released Wednesday.
“That is a nightmare scenario for Cambodia, raising, as it does, the specter of prolonged political instability and possibly the escalation of a new civil conflict between political foes.”
The Crisis Group, an international watchdog with monitors in eight countries, want elections to be delayed until at least October and for donor nations to boost the number of long-term observers.
The government has repeatedly said it will not delay the polls.
An adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday dismissed the recommendations, saying they were from “some kind of NGO groups.”
Prak Sokhonn said the poll preparations have been supported by the European Union and the UN’s top political officer in the region, Francesc Vendrell, who met with Hun Sen on Wednesday.
Calls to postpone elections are also impractical, Prak Sokhonn said.
“More assistance, more aid for elections [will be needed] if they are postponed,” said Prak Sokhonn. “I don’t think anyone can afford to postpone those elections.”
And he dismissed suggestions the government should review the legality of the electoral process. The elections are to be “prepared and organized and held by the Cambodians themselves…according to the law, the electoral law, the political parties law, and so on,” Prak Sokhonn said.
In the Crisis Group’s executive summary, it argued that the international community has a legal and a moral right to intervene to protect commitments made under the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.
Both groups had major concerns about voter intimidation, media restrictions that favor the CPP and the lack of investigations into human rights abuses.
The groups also pushed for the repeal of article 51 of the Civil Servants Act, which provides protection from the law for civil servants.
“Human Rights Watch cautions, however, that postponement [of the election] alone will achieve little unless the international community speaks with one voice…and backs that up with significant economic and diplomatic pressure,” the group wrote.
The groups argued that if elections proceed as planned, the international community should use leverage to bring about a more credible result.
Foreign nations can, for instance, continue to deny Cambodia a seat at the UN, or block membership in Asean. They can also continue to withhold aid.
Rights Watch also pushed for the US to release a Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the deadly March 30, 1997, grenade attack on a rally led by opposition politician Sam Rainsy that killed at least 17 people.