Ballot Marked by Peace, Inclusion; Marred by Irregularities, Bias

Greater public participation, particularly by young people, was more evident in the electoral process leading up to Sunday’s vote than in any previous national election, a development that was boosted by the recent pardoning, and return from exile, of Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy, the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel) said on Friday.

Assessing the electoral process on the eve of the end of the one-month campaign period, Comfrel noted the steep reduction in election-related violence, and the openness with which politics is being discussed in public, compared to previous elections.

However, irregularities were rampant in terms of inaccuracy in the voter list, which has led some civil society groups to suspect premeditated manipulation of the voter registration process. Members of the armed forces, civil servants and government officials also used state resources to support one political party over another, while some authorities used their power to restrict access by parties to public areas for election campaigning and demonstrating.

“The ruling party has had favored access to rally in public spaces for 30 days during this election campaign…. The opposition is limited by authorities as to where they can post their political signage. Most media networks have shown a bias toward the ruling party,” Comfrel said in its assessment statement.

Such actions “affect how much the elections can be deemed free and fair,” Comfrel said.  And as the country votes on Sunday, Comfrel also called on the international community to monitor the process and be ready to intervene if disputes arise, while political leaders should exercise patience and seek peaceful settlement should dispute follow the election result.

Comfrel also made a direct appeal for the armed forces to ensure neutrality during the electoral process and to issue a public statement to reassure the public that its does not favor one party over another.

“In this election campaign, the situation is better if we compare it with 2008 when there was murder cases of political activists,” Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said.

On the other hand, never before have authorities used their positions and resources to support a particular party, namely the ruling party. “There are many cases involved with authorities participating in the election, which has increased if we compare it to previous times,” Mr. Panha said.

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