Asian Monitors Criticize Pre-Election Violence in Report

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.

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