Campaign Dispute: Parties Differ on Election Climate

The official commune election campaign period ends today, leaving just one day for political parties and candidates to make final im­pres­sions on voters before they head to the polls on Sunday.

The SRP expects at least 10,000 to join a massive afternoon rally in the capital today, while Funcinpec said that about 1,500 supporters would gather in front of the party’s Phnom Penh headquarters this morning to kick off an all-day rally.

The four main parties have plan­ned rallies and processions at the local level around the country. The campaigns will be followed by a one-day grace period on Saturday before the polls open at 7 am on Sunday.

While the National Election Com­­­mittee and some monitors have characterized the election campaign period as calm, monitors have also said that intimidation and violence have negatively impacted the campaign climate.

“We cannot say that the environment during the election campaign is totally free and fair,” said Mar Sophal, monitoring coordinator with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

In particular, voters may be intimidated by three killings of political activists that Comfrel has recorded since March 16, Mar So­phal added.

Comfrel also reported 24 cases of threats and intimidation and four other instances of violence during the two-week campaign period, while the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia reported a total of 55 cases of assault and intimidation and two killings during the campaign period.

Local rights group Adhoc issued a statement Wednesday saying that Sunday’s commune elections cannot be considered free or fair if those behind four reported killings of political activists and supporters since March 16 are not brought to justice.

Chan Soveth, Adhoc investigator, said that it cannot be assumed that the four killings were politically motivated, but said that the acts “seriously intimidate” political activ­ists and voters.

Several monitors also pointed out strong biases in media coverage during the campaigns.

“Media [coverage] has been lopsided,” said Tarikul Ghani, director of programs at the National Demo­cratic Institute, though he added that preparation for the elections has been “satisfactory.”

Most cases of intimidation have targeted the SRP and the NRP, according to Adhoc and Comfrel.

The NRP and the SRP both claim­ed Thursday that they are being targeted by the ruling party, and disputed the fairness of the elections and the neutrality of the NEC.

SRP leader Sam Rainsy said that the CPP has used state resources for their campaigning and alleged that the ruling party launched an “unprecedented vote-buying drive” during the campaign period.

“The election will be anything but free and fair,” he said, but add­ed that CPP tactics show “weak­ness rather than strength.”

NRP spokesman Muth Chann­tha said the NRP has recorded about 50 cases of threats and intimidation against its supporters or activists since the start of the campaign period, and nearly 50 cases of obstruction or irregularities. The NRP also described the March 26 killing of an NRP activist in Siha­noukville as politically motivated.

Striking a more positive note, Muth Channtha said the NRP has “high expectations” that it will draw support in the 1,431 communes where it is fielding candidates.

Funcinpec spokesman Nouv So­va­thero said Funcinpec hopes to win seats in each of the 1,460 communes where it is running.

He added that he only knows of one case of minor violence against a Funcinpec activist during the campaign period, and said electoral fairness has improved since the first commune elections in 2002.

CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin denied any wrongdoing by the ruling party, and predicted a whopping 90 percent victory for the CPP on Sunday.

Complaints from other parties that the CPP is violating electoral rules are untrue, he said.

“It is just a political excuse. CPP activists have never committed any violence,” Heng Samrin said, add­ing that instances of violence during the campaign period were simply personal disputes.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said the election body has received 26 formal complaints during the campaign period, and that only four of the complaints still need to be solved. Another 24 incidents were solved informally on the ground, he said, adding that no ser­ious violence has occurred.

“The election campaign environment is very good,” Tep Nytha added.




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