As Campaign Begins, Comfrel Cites Concerns

Election-related violence and equal access to broadcast media for all political parties were the two major concerns cited by the Com­mit­tee for Free and Fair Elec­tions on the eve of the two-week campaign period for the Feb 3 commune council elections.

“We are very concerned” that violent attacks on candidates and party activists have occurred more frequently in recent weeks, Com­frel Director Koul Panha said Thurs­day.

At least 15 candidates or political activists have been killed in the year leading up to the elections, human rights officials say. The official campaign begins today.

Koul Panha said Comfrel has been told by the privately owned radio station 97.5 FM that it will not broadcast voter education pro­grams prepared by Comfrel, de­spite a contract between the sta­tion and election monitoring or­ganization to do so.

“There are no guidelines or de­cisions by the NEC” to tell stations what to do, so they are re­fusing to do anything, he contended.

Even a taped message from King Norodom Sihanouk urging vo­ters to ignore intimidation and pressure and vote as they wish will not be telecast until Jan 31.

“The Feb 3 election is a secret ballot, organized according to the principles of a liberal democracy,” the King said in his message. “So please, my countrymen and children, use your wisdom.”

Prum Nhean Vichet, director of information for the NEC, said the King’s message won’t be broadcast earlier because he wanted the monarch’s words to be fresh in the minds of voters.

Koul Panha said the lack of equal access to information is made worse by the overwhelming bias of both state and privately owned media in favor of the government and ruling CPP.

Comfrel’s media team monitored TV and radio broadcasts of po­litical programming from Jan 4-14, and found that government programs, including shots of CPP of­ficials opening new roads, schools and bridges or handing out aid, filled 75 percent of the time.

The CPP was specifically featured 5 percent of the time, al­ways in a neutral or positive tone. Fun­cinpec received less than 1 per­cent of the airtime, and about one-eighth of that was negative. The Sam Rainsy Party was also on the air less than 1 percent of the time.

(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)

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