Envoy: NEC Must Enforce Election Law

The National Election Com­mittee and law enforcement officials have failed to fully investigate reports of voter intimidation, political violence and vote-buying, according to a report issued Tuesday by UN human rights envoy Peter Leu­precht.

“I would like the NEC to apply the law, and the law gives the NEC far-reaching powers, including [the power to impose] fines and penalties,” Leuprecht said at a news briefing at Hotel Le Royal.

“It should not be a paper tiger…. It should show that it is an independent and strong party, and it should do what the law allows it to do,” he said.

Leuprecht’s report—the first of two on this year’s general elections—stated that government officials have shown a knee-jerk reaction to killings, publicly declaring them personal disputes before the end of the investigation.

“That kind of attitude undermines [the government’s] credibility,” he said. “How can you say anything serious about the motivation when you have conducted no investigation?”

At least seven members of the three main political parties have been killed since the start of campaigning, Mao Chandara, the chief of the National Police general staff, said by telephone Tuesday.

One suspect has been arrested in those cases, he said.

Leuprecht also urged the government to ensure the neutrality of election officials by preventing village chiefs from working as party agents, and to loosen restrictions on rallies and protests.

But Leuprecht said he would not say if the elections are “free and fair,” conditions that the US and other donor countries have set for future aid.

“I think personally it is a mistake to be locked up in those two adjectives,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, the NEC issued a strict ultimatum demanding that media conform to electoral law standards of fair reporting.

Television and radio stations will risk suspension if they broadcast unfair election news or insults against competing politicians, NEC spokesman Leng Sochea said.

Some stations have repeatedly breached the NEC’s code of conduct, he said.

“We have already advised those radio stations many times, but this is their final chance,” he said. “Starting from [today], if the stations continue, we will stop them temporarily, until the election is finished.”

Leng Sochea would not name the violating stations, but Mar Sophal, a media observer with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said radio stations FM 90.5 and AM 918 and television stations Bayon and Apsara had given access only to the CPP.

“The NEC is competent to shut down the stations during the election campaign period,” Mar So­phal said.

“I hope the NEC will take action on violating media,” he said.

It remains unclear if the NEC, which critics have called toothless, will be able to enforce the strict, far-reaching bans outlined in the directive.

The directive states that “media shall avoid using abusive, insulting, inciting, intimidating and immoral languages which cause fear, confusion and disorder to the society and electoral climate through the press opinion program, questions and answers through telephone call, short or long stories, short or long comedy, dance, play, traditional guitar play, traditional question and answer song or other discussion program.”

Beehive founder Mam Sonan­do, whose station was temporarily shut down in 1998 for alleged bias, said he would review his spots and delete insults and verbal assaults.

But, he added, “I think the NEC tries to help the CPP. They don’t want any stations to broadcast the government’s fault, and that is why they shut the stations’ mouth.”

In other election news, the NEC drew criticism from the Khmer Front Party for allegedly deleting comments made by the party president about illegal immigrants in a five-minute television spot.

“The committee has muted the party president’s words, which made the listeners not know about the right meaning of what he said,” according to a letter from the party addressed to the NEC.

The spot was taped as part of the NEC broadcast equity formula.

Also on Tuesday, the NEC urged the Sam Rainsy Party to continue cooperation with the equity news broadcasts sponsored and produced jointly by TVK and the UN Development Program.

The Sam Rainsy Party called the coverage biased at a news conference Monday and nominally withdrew.

Today, Prime Minister Hun Sen will oversee a Tree Day ceremony in Sihanoukville, and CPP President Chea Sim will preside over a pagoda inauguration in Meanchey district.

Sam Rainsy will campaign in Svay Rieng province, and Fun­cinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh will campaign in Kom­pong Thom province.


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