Election Monitors Report Access Difficulties

Cambodian election watchdogs say they are being stopped in several provinces from pol­ling residents about how they would like communes to be organized.

In preparation for next year’s anticipated commune elections, mem­bers of the country’s three main election-monitoring groups are visiting 12 provinces in an effort to create a comprehensive survey of the public’s opinion on commune administration.

While monitors have been successful in some provinces, in others they have either run into outright refusal or been forced into a bureaucratic mire of written requests that they claim could take weeks to approve.

Kek Galabru, director of the Neutral and Independent Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said workers experienced similar resistance from local government officials when they tried to poll residents about the Khmer Rouge trial.

In Kandal province, Nicfec work­ers were asked to submit a written request to the Ministry of Interior, Kek Galabru said.

Instead, Kek Galabru said her organization will truck province residents into Phnom Penh to be questioned before being ret­urned to their homes.

“It will be a little bit more expensive, but asking permission takes a long time,” she said.

Officials with the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections have also said they are being denied access by Battambang authorities.

“We are being told that Coffel is not bigger than the Ministry of Interior and that we cannot speak with any people,” Coffel Exec­utive Director Sek Sophal said.

Ministry of Interior officials in Phnom Penh said Wednesday they have received neither complaints nor requests from election monitors to question residents.

Workers with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia have experienced no difficulties during their surveys of four provinces, according to Comfrel official Sok Sam Oeun.

Sok Sam Oeun said between 80 percent and 90 percent of those questioned supported a politically neutral ballot where candidates are not listed by party affiliation.

But he said trying to explain possible changes to commune administration—most notably the creation of a governing commune council to replace the commune chief—have been difficult.

“These people are used to an old structure that has been there a very long time,” he said. “They do not understand at all [the proposed changes].”

There remains no clear date for the elections, but Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng told lawmakers Wednesday they are likely to be held late next year if the election laws are finalized by January or February.

 

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