An Asian network of election monitors is urging the government to take quick action to stem the violence and intimidation it says have marred the run-up to Sunday’s commune elections.
These concerns and others were outlined in a generally critical report released Monday as 60 short-term election monitors arrived in Cambodia.
The Asian Network for Free Elections, which has had nine election monitors in Cambodia since Dec 24, wrote in its campaign observation report that it is “concerned at the political climate” leading up to the Feb 3 ballot.
“We have serious concerns about the trend of violence [against commune election candidates and activists] before the upcoming commune elections, and urge all political parties and organizations to pay attention to the threats of intimidation and violence,” said Somsri Berger, Anfrel election monitoring program coordinator.
Anfrel’s monitors come from 17 nations, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, and are familiar with problems facing Southeast Asian countries during an election, Berger said.
Anfrel co-chief Joe Alexandre “Xanana” Gusmao will be arriving Saturday to monitor the election. Gusmao is the East Timorese independence leader and presidential hopeful in his own country’s April elections.
Anfrel is closely monitoring the neutrality and impartiality of the National Election Committee. “It is difficult for the NEC to be neutral because they are with the government,” Berger said.
Local candidates were sharply criticized for “failing to address local issues in their campaigns.” The campaigns are being “run as though this was a general election. [We] couldn’t find any locally made campaign materials; all materials provided to candidates have generalized the issues,” said Kang Iong Niam, a Malaysian monitor who has been to Pailin. “We get the feeling that local leaders hardly have any speeches or proposals of their own,” he said, adding that all written materials have been provided by their respective parties.
The report charged that the commune and provincial election committees are not doing enough to “uphold the election law” and were biased toward the existing commune leadership.
The report added that Anfrel was concerned about “continuing cases of intimidation, the distribution of money and gifts in attempt to buy voter loyalty and the involvement of government officials in campaign activities.”
Most people know how to vote but are not equipped to “make an informed choice,” the report said.