Gov’t Funds Return of ‘Shadow’ Election Monitors

A group accused of rubber-stamping autocratic elections in 2013 said on Tuesday it would return to observe the June 4 commune elections, with the airfare, accommodation and an excursion to Siem Reap province covered by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) was one of two groups of international poll watchers that declared the 2013 national election free and fair a day after the vote amid widespread complaints of fraud. An internal memo distributed at the time by ICAPP in advance of the vote said the CPP would cover expenses on the trip, though a later statement said the group was seeking alternative funding.

An email recently posted to ICAPP’s website and sent on May 18 by Lim Sreynith, who identified herself to reporters as a Foreign Affairs Ministry employee, extends an invitation from the ministry and “on behalf of the National Election Committee” (NEC) to members of ICAPP’s standing committee to return on a five-day visit to monitor this year’s vote, “with travel, hotel, and other accommodations…fully sponsored and arranged by Cambodia.”

Contacted on Tuesday, Ms. Sreynith said that expenses would be covered by the ministry, but referred other questions to its spokesman, Chum Sounry, who could not be reached for comment. The itinerary for the visit, also posted to the ICAPP website, includes a “courtesy call” with Prime Minister Hun Sen, dinner hosted by ICAPP vice chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, and meetings with representatives from the CPP, CNRP, Funcinpec and the NEC. There is also an optional one-day junket to Siem Reap province. Ra Su-jin, assistant to the secretary-general of ICAPP, also confirmed that the ministry would cover expenses and referred questions to the NEC, whose spokesman, Hang Puthea, could not be reached for comment.

Sotheara Yoeurng, the law and monitoring officer at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said there were no rules prohibiting the government from inviting or funding election observers. But Lee Morgenbesser, an Australian academic who co-authored a paper published in March that called ICAPP and another 2013 election monitor “shadow” observers used by authoritarian governments to cast a veneer of legitimacy on votes, said on Tuesday that the group would likely validate the voting process regardless of any irregularities that might emerge. He pointed to a press conference scheduled just two hours after polls closed.

“By only monitoring the day of the vote, ICAPP is acting in defiance of international norms, which encourages observation groups to monitor all stages of the electoral process,” Mr. Morgenbesser, a research fellow at Griffith University, wrote in an email on Tuesday.

“This is all just history repeating.”

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