Government Blames Protest Deaths on Election Report

The Council of Ministers, in a document issued on Tuesday, has claimed that civil society organizations that released a report detailing irregularities in July’s national election are in league with the opposition CNRP and working to overthrow the CPP government.

In a 40-page response to The Joint-Report on the Conduct of the 2013 Cambodian Elections, released by the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) in December, the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PQRU) also says that the involved organizations must take “full responsibility,” along with CNRP leaders, for the lives that have been lost in post-election violence.

The December report, based on figures from the National Election Committee as well as studies conducted by independent election monitors, found that widespread irregularities in July’s disputed election favored the ruling CPP.

The PQRU’s response claims that the ERA’s report was far from independent.

“According to reliable sources, the presidents of these NGOs, particularly one involved in compiling the Joint-Report, recently met with Mr. Sam Rainsy and Mr. Kem Sokha to advise them on how to topple the Royal Government through ‘people power’ or staging a ‘color revolution,’” the PQRU’s response says.

“Are such activities considered independent?” it continues.

The response goes on to say that the timing of the report’s release proved that the involved organizations, including the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) and the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), were secretly cooperating with the opposition party.

“The ERA’s Joint-Report was published in the second week of December 2013 coinciding with the changes of the Opposition’s tactics from weekly demonstrations to daily demonstrations,” the PQRU says.

“This clearly reflects the link between the Joint-Report and its issuing NGOs and the political tactics of the Opposition CNRP to reject the results of the election,” it says.

“[The ERA report] was produced to discredit the 2013 electoral process by manipulations and fabrications, aiming to bring its readers to view the electoral system in Cambodia as not fair, acting in favor of the CPP, and not effective—misleading the public into believing that this is the reason behind the CNRP’s loss,” the PQRU’s response concludes.

In an addendum, the PQRU goes even further, saying that the civil society organizations who were involved in the report share responsibility for the death of seven protesters and civilians who have been killed by state security forces in the past six months.

“Those involved NGOs as well as Mr. Sam Rainsy and Mr. Kem Sokha must bear full responsibility for leading the anarchic demonstrators to commit violent acts and for demanding, in contradiction with the Constitution, laws, and the principles of democracy, that the Prime Minister step down and organize a new election,” the PQRU says.

“In this regard, the CNRP’s leaders, especially Mr. Sam Rainsy and Mr. Kem Sokha, and ERA should take responsibility for the consequences as well as the loss of lives resulting from this violence, especially the impact of the ERA’s Joint-Report.”

Ek Tha, spokesman for the PQRU, said that the government’s lengthy response to the ERA’s report was necessary to set the record straight after the CNRP and election monitors have repeatedly said that July’s election was neither free nor fair.

“We want the national and international public to…better understand about the electoral process as well as the clear political will of the Cambodian government,” he said.

Laura Thornton, NDI’s resident country director, said that the ERA’s report was entirely independent of political influence, and largely based on the government’s own data regarding the election.

“I think [civil society organizations] and political parties can often collide and share policy positions and it doesn’t mean you are collaborating with them,” Ms. Thornton said.

“I think it’s very hard to dismiss the ERA report because it is based on data and figures from the government itself,” she said. “If you dispute the findings in the report you are disputing your own government information.”

Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said that the report was meant to support an investigation into July’s election, and could still be useful in ending the ongoing political dispute if the CPP and CNRP eventually sit down for negotiations over electoral reform.

“I think [the government’s] behavior has not yet changed to reflect a commitment to deep reform, especially election reform,” Mr. Panha said. “They always ignore all critical feedback.”

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