James Gomez paced the third floor of the Foreign Corespondents Club of Cambodia restaurant and asked the group of students in his audience if they regularly use e-mail. Only one said no.
“You!” Gomez said to him. “You’re behind the times!”
At Saturday’s launch of Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s new book, “Asian Cyberactivism: Freedom of Expression and Media Censorship,” Gomez, a co-editor of the publication, led an open discussion on technology.
Although the purpose of the presentation at the FCC was to introduce the new book, Gomez focused most of the event on his audience, the majority of whom were university students.
“I study [online technology] to get something new and produce more for society,” said Muth Vireak, 22, an information technology student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “After school I will be able to do almost any kind of job.”
But although the Internet is of growing interest in Cambodia, the ability to use it remains a problem, according to the book.
The book, published by FNF, a German liberal politics foundation, includes reports of Asian nations’ experiences with political expression—or oppression—on the Web. Cambodia’s relationship with the Internet is tricky, it said.
“Authorities in countries such as Cambodia have so far made no efforts to regulate or restrict the Internet,” the book stated in its introduction, adding that one reason could be “due to a low level of Internet penetration and access making the medium irrelevant as a tool of political dissent.”
Gomez said that Cambodians are hindered from expressing their political views on the Internet, but the problem is not censorship—unlike other countries mentioned in the book, such as China. Online technology is still new to Cambodia and barely available to those living outside the capital, he said.
“The biggest problem is that a lot of people just need to learn how to use the Internet. Cost is also an issue…. Here, people want to use the computer, but they just don’t have the money,” Nuth Rumduol, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, said at Saturday’s launch.
The book’s chapter on Cambodia compares the Web sites of the country’s main political parties, calling the Sam Rainsy Party’s the most “professional,” while stating that Funcinpec and the CPP “tend to keep their Web sites online just to maintain a cyber existence.”
But Cambodia is still struggling to bridge the technological gap between itself and other countries, as well as between its rural and urban areas, according to the book, adding that Cambodia’s biggest problem is illiteracy and poverty.
“Hence political parties have to think hard before relying on [the] Internet as an effective medium for promoting democracy,” it said. “Attention needs to be placed on other tools of outreach, [rather] than [relying] on the Internet alone.”
–NEC Stops Investigating Election Irregularities
–All opposition complaints have been rejected
By Khuon Narim
And Colin Meyn
The cambodia daily
The National Election Committee (NEC) said yesterday that it is no longer involved in mediating the dispute between the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP over the results of last month’s national election.
The announcement came after the NEC over the weekend rejected 17 complaints related to allegations of voter fraud and electoral manipulation submitted last week by the CNRP.
NEC President Im Suosdey said that complaints over the results of the July 28 national election should now be directed to the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, the body that will make the final ruling on the legitimacy of the NEC’s election results–which give the CPP an absolute majority in Parliament.
“Everything is out of my hands. It is now the Constitutional Council’s responsibility,” Mr. Suosdey said when asked if the NEC would consider cooperating with further investigations into election irregularities.
The NEC rejected the opposition party’s complaints, which were submitted on Thursday and Friday, because they lacked sufficient evidence, according Hoeu Rong, executive director of the NEC’s operations department.
“The NEC rejected the complaints of the opposition party because there wasn’t any inculpatory evidence of their accusations against the NEC,” Mr. Rong said.
The CNRP has maintained that the NEC cooperated with the CPP in orchestrating widespread fraud during the election and selectively removing the names of opposition supporters from voter lists prior to polling day.
Preliminary results released by the NEC support claims by the CPP to have won 68 seats to 55 for the CNRP. However, the CNRP has claimed that it won 63 seats to 60 for the CPP, citing polling data collected by its own members.
The Constitutional Council on Friday released a statement welcoming complaints from all political parties and CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said yesterday the opposition party had already submitted its complaints to the body on Saturday.
Uth Chhorn, spokesman for the Constitutional Council, declined to comment yesterday.
The CNRP held a press conference yesterday in which party leaders presented evidence of what they allege was post-election manipulation of ballot counts by the NEC, fraudulent use of identity documents on election day, and cases of voters being registered at multiple polling stations.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy called on the NEC to provide the original copies of 1102 forms, which were endorsed by representatives of political parties and election monitors at polling stations and then sealed, to be compared with 1108 forms, which were used by the NEC to support its results.
“We are asking the NEC at some polling stations to open safety package A [in which 1102 forms are sealed] so that we can review 1108 forms [unofficial forms on which vote counts were recorded at polling stations]. If we verify this and really find the truth we can provide justice to voters,” Mr. Rainsy said.
But Mr. Rong at the NEC said that there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing to justify unsealing 1102 forms.
“We would only open Safety Package A if there was evidence of a serious case. It cannot be opened just because they want to verify results,” he said.
Within three weeks of the national election being held, the NEC has now completely removed itself from the political conflict without making any significant effort to fulfill its role as mediator of electoral disputes, said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.
“They have made no effort to make voters satisfied by resolving any of these issues. They tried to move everything fast to settle the dispute as soon as possible and give everything to the Constitutional Council,” Mr. Panha said, adding that the Constitutional Council would almost certainly side with the NEC.
The NEC “made no serious effort to listen to the political parties who are concerned about differing election results or election irregularities,” he added.
With the CPP insisting that the NEC lead any investigation into irregularities in the election, negotiations between the CPP and CNRP over the formation of a joint-committee to look into the CNRP’s complaints have broken down.
Cheam Yeap, the CPP’s lead delegate in negotiations with the CNRP, said that he remained open to further talks, but only under the authority of the NEC.
“The parties can meet anytime, day or night, but please allow the NEC to lead the meeting because the law gives power to the NEC to solve all the irregularities,” Mr. Yeap said.
As the NEC has adhered to its post-election timetable in which final results are set to be released by September 8, the CPP has mobilized troops and heavy weaponry around the country in what Mr. Yeap said was a legitimate move to protect national security in the face of threats by the CNRP to hold mass demonstrations against the election results.
“As for deploying the military and armed personnel carriers, it is the right of the government in order to ensure public security. Because the CNRP lost the election it has raised the possibility of mass demonstrations, so we want to prevent unrest in society,” Mr. Yeap said.
However CNRP vice president Kem Sokha called on the CPP yesterday to “stop playing a game by threatening people by using tanks, arresting people as intimidation and threatening CNRP activists in rural areas.”
Mr. Sokha said after yesterday’s press conference that time was running out for the CPP to sit down with the CNRP to find a solution that would suit opposition supporters and allow the opposition party to join the National Assembly next month and legitimize a new government.
“Time is on our side. Time is running out for the CPP. They need to resolve this. The fact that the CPP is not responding makes it clear to the international community, civil society and the people that they have no will to respond to this situation,” he said.