The European Union election observation mission described Sunday’s commune council elections as a forward step for democracy in Cambodia, but also raised serious concerns about the lack of law enforcement during the campaign.
“The election campaign did not offer parties a fully free environment or equal opportunity, and aspects of the pre-election period therefore fell short of international standards,” EU chief observer Carlos Costa Neves said Tuesday.
However, this does not invalidate the results since voting took place in a peaceful and orderly manner, and votes were counted in a transparent manner, he said.
Costa Neves said the election had been well-run technically by the National Election Committee, from voter and candidate registration through the counting process. But the pre-election period was plagued by intimidation and violence that authorities failed to address, he said.
Campaign coverage by state-run media was more limited and biased than during the 1998 national elections, even though the NEC had insured equal access to political parties, Costa Neves said.
EU monitors found that 75 percent of television coverage focused on government activities, while 13 percent spotlighted the CPP. This left only 2 percent of airtime for the Funcinpec and less than 1 percent for the Sam Rainsy Party—findings that have been echoed by other election monitors.
In addition, the NEC prohibited the television broadcast of campaign debates, which showed “its tendency to limit the scope of campaign freedoms,” Costa Neves said.
Agreeing with Cambodian election monitors, Costa Neves called for a more neutral NEC that was fully independent of the government. Cambodian monitors and some donors have long called for the NEC reform.
The EU mission, which arrived Dec 19, will leave at the end of the month. Its final report will include the post-election period. Its long-term team grew to 120 observers during the election period.