Elections Get Cautious Praise

The July 27 elections were an “important step” for Cambodia’s developing democracy, but saw political violence and in­timidation and “arbitrary restrictions” on freedoms of assembly and expression, according to a re­port by UN hu­man rights envoy Peter Leu­precht, released on Wed­nes­­day.

Also, an unresponsive National Election Committee failed, in most cases, to impose sanctions after hearing complaints of electoral fraud, vote buying, intimidation and violence, the report said.

This reflects an “institutional weakness,” from the NEC down to the provincial and commune election committees, and shows that the complaint process was “largely ineffective.”

Short-term international observation teams “tend to focus on the technical aspects of election ad­ministration,” such as voter registration, balloting and the counting process, the report said. But problems noted in Leuprecht’s report serve to illustrate larger issues facing society.

“Underlying areas of concern extend far beyond the immediate election context,” the report said.

“Impunity for those who commit serious crimes; poor law en­forcement and a weak judiciary are not problems limited to the electoral period, and cannot be resolved alone by strengthening electoral laws,” it said.

The report noted that, for the most part during the campaign period, political parties were able to conduct rallies and campaign activities without being disturbed by the authorities. But before that period, “a number of gatherings were not authorized on public or­der or national security grounds.”

“The unjustified restriction of freedom of assembly constitutes a serious threat to the wider democratic process in Cambodia, and contributes to a ‘disabling’ environment for the conduct of legitimate political activity,” the report said.

Leuprecht recommended “a consultative drafting procedure” and “due regard given to applicable international standards” if the government goes ahead with an initiative to write new legislation on public demonstrations.

He also recommended various amendments to the Electoral Law to enable election committees to investigate complaints and properly sanction violations.

The report from Leuprecht is the his second on this year’s elections. He also sent a pre-election report to the UN General Assem­bly on July 8.

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