Chief arbiter in the Cambodian electoral process, the National Election Committee is not trusted outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, the European Union’s election monitoring team announced Tuesday.
The finding was foremost among criticisms reported by European Union observers who found that while July’s national election was peaceful and orderly, it was also marked by the partisan use of government resources, vote-buying and a media environment heavily weighted in favor of the central power.
The EU’s 130-observer mission also called for the establishment of an independent broadcast authority, public disclosure both of political parties’ campaign finances and of government officials’ use of time during the election campaign period, Chief Observer Martin Callanan, a British member of the European Parliament, told reporters in presenting the EU mission’s final report on the 2008 elections.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Tuesday that the committee had produced the best election conditions yet and that the makeup of the nine-member committee was a parliamentary responsibility. Grievances with the NEC were often politically motivated, he said.
“The party elected to the Assembly selects the NEC Chairman, not the party that lost,” Tep Nytha said.
The authors of the EU report observed that at a July 10 meeting, the NEC accused the nation’s biggest radio and television broadcasters, including Apsara radio and television, CTN and Bayon TV, of pro-CPP bias while Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were warned against being overly critical of the CPP.
However, in conversation with EU observers, government officials said these competing biases amounted to a free media environment, a contention the European mission did not accept.
“The idea that the government’s dominance of the state-owned and private airwaves is balanced by the existence of critical reporting on a few radio stations with limited reach […] has no merit,” the EU report said. “The space for opposition or critical voices in the media is too narrow to provide any counter to pro-government propaganda.”
Tep Nytha stood by this assertion Tuesday.
“Some support the ruling party and some support the opposition parties, and I think the media in Cambodia are better than before,” he said.
The observer mission also called for the abolition of the widely criticized 1018 voter identification forms, saying they represent a clear opportunity for fraud. Used to identify voters who have no other means of identification, the forms can be falsified to allow ballots to be cast under assumed names.
“We have received evidence of a number of cases of fraudulent election activities,” Callanan said. “The quantity of forms we have seen would not have affected the overall election result,” he added.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday the government hopes to phase out the forms by the next commune elections by issuing national identity cards, which the EU mission recommended.
“I hope that at the 2012 elections, the 1018 form will be abolished,” he said.