HRW Calls for Donors to Demand Prompt Election Investigation

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Wednesday it suspects ruling-party involvement in fraud during Sunday’s election, and called for Cambodia’s international donors to demand a prompt and independent investigation.

The opposition CNRP has demanded a committee, involving the U.N. and the international community, be formed to investigate irregularities during the election, which both they and the CPP claim to have won.

In a statement issued Wednesday in New York, HRW said it had found evidence that CPP officials were involved in election fraud.

The statement said an anonymous CPP village chief admitted to HRW staff that, under the orders of a party-aligned military general, he had issued fraudulent identity documents, allowing additional votes to be cast for the ruling party.

“He explained that a member of the general’s team gave the instructions to issue certificates in the names of villagers who were on the voter registration rolls but were known either to be dead or to have long left their original homes,” the statement says.

HRW also said it had been told of military officials and their families being issued with voting forms in an area where they are not residents, and CPP officials attempting to vote at multiple polling stations.

The group called for donors, who still provide a significant amount of government spending, to force a full investigation into allegations of voting fraud.

“The multiple voting scheme suggests the possibility of systematic election fraud by the CPP and raises serious questions about the credibility of the election,” Brad Adams, HRW executive director for Asia, said in the statement.

“Since the National Election Committee and local election commissions are under the ruling party’s control, influential governments and donors should demand independent investigations into these and other credible allegations of election related irregularities. Without this, it’s hard to see how Cambodian voters can have confidence in the legitimacy of the elections and the new government that results.”

The U.S. State Department on Monday made a call for an investigation into allegations of irregularities at the polls. The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, has also expressed regret that recommendations made following 2008’s elections were not fully implemented by the government and the NEC.

Sophal Ear, author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy,” said no single donor seemed likely to cut off aid if calls for an investigation are not heeded.

“These calls, unfortunately, are unlikely to have any impact whatsoever on the ruling party,” Mr. Ear said in an email, noting that a number of countries, including China and Hungary, had already declared the elections free and fair.

Mr. Ear pointed out that the World Bank, which froze new lending to Cambodia over the government’s handling of evictions from the Boeng Kak community in Phnom Penh, had said it would start negotiating with the government again after the elections.

“There might be some hemming and hawing from the donors, but they’ll eventually accept the reality and stop looking under that rock,” he said.

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