Donors Score Elections for Violence, Bias

Echoing comments made on Tuesday by national and inter­national observers, donor countries this week criticized the biased coverage of the commune council elections on state-run media, and the intimidation and violence that took place during the campaign.

“Investigations should be thoroughly conducted [in these cases],” a Japanese Embassy statement said.

One donor representative suggested allocating money for election period air time in an attempt to ensure each political party has equal access to the media and avoid one party monopolizing radio and television coverage.

Some donors are even discussing whether the NEC should even be responsible for policing equal media access for political parties. Donor countries and the European Union contributed approximately $10 million to the $17.5 million elections.

Some were not as critical: Australian Ambassador Louise Hand credited the NEC with using donor funds wisely.

Posters showing the voting procedure were prominently displayed, and polling stations were set up accordingly, she said. NEC workers followed proper voting procedures and conducted matters in a transparent way, “which limited the opportunity to manipulate votes,” Hand said.

Still, the Cambodian government has drawn strong criticism for the apparent lack in investigation into the killings of at least 20 candidates and party activists in the months preceding the vote.

“The pre-election violence that resulted in the loss of life is ex­tremely deplorable,” Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot.

“One can understand the pro­cess of growth of democracy in Cambodia,” Mailhot said. But he added that, “future elections will be held to higher standards as to the prevention of such violence.”

The elections, and the incidents of violence, might come up during the June Consultative Group meeting where donors will discuss how much aid should be pledged to Cambodia. Some of this aid could go to the 2003 national elections.

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