European Union Special Representative Glenys Kinnock put a stamp of approval on the elections and ballot counting, but said final international judgment should wait.
“The polling and counting has been assessed as credible and acceptable by our EU observer teams,” the EU parliamentarian said at a press conference Wednesday in Phnom Penh. “[But] the international community should only make its final position when the entire election process is completed.”
Several Asian diplomats concurred, saying they expect the international community to sign off on Cambodia’s elections only after final results are announced.
But they agreed the various observer group reports so far indicate that international acceptance is likely. “I think so, [barring evidence of] a pattern of fraud,” one Asean diplomat said.
Observer groups have said that they will modify their statements if patterns of election fraud are substantiated. But so far, they say, they haven’t been persuaded by the allegations.
The Joint International Observer Group, which on Monday night declared the elections essentially free and fair, said in a statement Wednesday evening that after debriefing its observers it found no reason to change its conclusion.
At stake for Cambodia is regaining its UN seat, entry into Asean and millions of dollars of development aid.
“We would wish to see a reinstatement and a reinclusion of Cambodia into the international community and indeed into the global economy,” Kinnock said. All that is essential, she said, to any country trying to overcome the kind of economic and social misery Cambodians face.
Kinnock called the electoral process “unprecedented in the history of Cambodia,” and a vindication of the EU’s decision to provide $11.5 million of election aid.
But she also said that visits outside the capital confirmed conditions were more difficult in rural and remote areas, and that political activists had been harassed.
“This is completely unacceptable in any democratic process,” she said. “The government should ensure that the appropriate authorities subsequently investigate all accusations of violence especially if it appears to have been politically motivated.”
While she expressed concern over the possible influence on voters from the violence that led up to the elections, “I don’t think you can intimidate 90 percent of the people,” a reference to the heavy and enthusiastic voter turnout.
The EU had less than 200 short-term observers, but relied heavily on thousands of national observers posted at 11,699 polling stations throughout the country.
Kinnock said she is satisfied the irregularities observed on election day were generally unintentional. But she acknowledged the ballot-counting process has been “clearly marked by dispute and dissension.” She said the EU was prepared to keep observers in the country for recounting.
Kinnock also called for a “thorough and comprehensive” investigation into the alleged irregularities. She said she had confidence in the National Election Committee’s ability to conduct such an investigation, noting that the committee had reacted quickly to ban suspect observer groups just before the elections.
Others have questioned that the CPP-stacked NEC and Constitutional Council can be impartial in investigating and ruling on election disputes.
Kinnock said the outcome should be respected and there should be no reprisal or recrimination of any kind.
Rights violations and a culture of impunity in general remain a concern, Kinnock said, and she characterized Cambodia’s low life expectancy, high infant mortality, number of stunted children and poor sanitation as “grotesque.”
“There is an urgent need for a signal showing that the political will exists to address such a harsh and tragic denial of fundamental rights.”
Kinnock said Cambodians she talked to want peace and a decent standard of living more than anything else.
Kinnock wrote her statement on Tuesday, but amended it Wednesday morning after debriefing observers who had returned from the provinces.
She said there were reservations among JIOG’s members to release a statement on Monday night, but the general consensus was to go ahead. “There’s never a perfect time to do these things and I think that I’m fortunate that I’m doing it now.”