Several foreign diplomats and election monitors welcomed the peaceful atmosphere surrounding Sunday’s commune elections, though they also acknowledged the need to address electoral irregularities and other problems reported at the polls.
The Australian Embassy said it was pleased with the way the election had gone. “We are pleased that the commune council elections appear to have proceeded smoothly and that the elections were more peaceful than in previous years,” a spokesman said.
Australia “continues to support the strengthening of democratic processes in Cambodia,” he said, adding that the embassy had also dispatched observers to the polls.
“Our observations indicate that the voting was carried out in a generally orderly and peaceful fashion,” US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle wrote in an e-mail Monday, adding that the embassy had sent 42 election monitoring teams to provinces throughout Cambodia. Sunday’s low voter turnout, “while always disappointing in a democratic election…was not a major concern for the embassy,” he added.
Tarikul Ghani, director of programs at the National Democratic Institute, said Cambodia has made marked progress in terms of its technical capacity to run elections. Around 100,000 candidates ran for commune council seats, up from 70,000 in the 2002 commune elections, he added.
However, “a lot more needs to be done to meet international standards,” he said.
Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho and chair of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said voter intimidation still dominated this year’s polls and campaign period, despite other improvements in the election process.
“I can say that the [National Election Committee] is more organized, technically speaking, but there is still intimidation,” she said. Nicfec monitors reported village chiefs intimidating voters at the polls and vote-buying schemes, she said.
A British Embassy press officer said the embassy was “not ready to give any comment or reaction.”
Representatives from the UN Development Program and the French Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.