Sunday’s national election was proclaimed “free and fair” by the 291 international observers invited by the National Election Committee (NEC) to monitor the ballot—despite allegations of serious irregularities.
Although the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) made considerable gains, winning 55 of the 123 National Assembly seats, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) held on to 68 seats, a majority that the observers—who reportedly had their expenses covered by the ruling party—said should be respected by all parties.
“We consider the election in Cambodia as a triumph of popular will and a victory of the Cambodian people in their quest to build a better future based on the supremacy and sanctity of the ballot,” said the joint statement by the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) and the Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI).
The two groups claim to represent 340 political parties from Asian countries including Burma, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The statement, which is also posted to the NEC’s website, described Sunday’s vote as ultimately “free, fair and transparent, and, above all, peaceful, non-violent and smooth, [which] bears testimony to the fact that Cambodian democracy has not only matured, but come of age politically.”
At a subsequent press conference Monday morning, the observers reiterated their upbeat assessment of the vote, despite the fact that just across town, CNRP president Sam Rainsy was holding his own press conference to denounce the results.
Mr. Rainsy alleged widespread irregularities and called for the establishment of a committee to investigate the results.
Asked about reports of duplicate names on the voter register and the countless voters who said they were unable to find their names on the list, the groups’ answers were philosophical.
Mushahid Hussain Sayed, secretary-general of CAPDI, said that no country held totally fair elections, even established democracies in the West.
“Unfortunately, the media wants to reduce things too much—was it free, was it fair, yes and no answers, but it requires a more nuanced response,” he said, adding that the apparent flaws “did not materially affect the election process.”
The 2008 national election attracted 500 international observers, many from the European Union, but this year the E.U. sent no observers, saying they were not asked and that recommendations made by their observers in 2008 were not taken on board. The U.S. Embassy also said it decided to send only “informal visitors” to polling stations instead of official monitors.
The observers who did come to Cambodia this year did so at the expense of the CPP, according to an email sent last month by Chung Euiyong, secretary-general of ICAPP.