But Nat’l Observers Still Being Added
The National Election Committee issued a formal order Thursday to give priority to Cambodian election observers from the three established monitoring groups, an official said.
Yet the NEC this week also approved nearly 1,000 new observers—while at the same time insisting it was trying to cut the overall number, NEC General Secretary Im Suorsdei confirmed.
The conflicting actions, which some say reveal divisions within the NEC, come amid pressure from the international community, which has strongly implied that crowding out internationally recognized observers could hurt the elections’ credibility.
Im Suorsdei said the NEC issued an order to provincial election officials Thursday evening to give “first priority” to observers from the three groups.
“I think that this will satisfy all the people,” he said.
The director of one of the established groups, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, welcomed the order, but said he was still worried that monitors from his group would be excluded because of a surplus of observers from other NGOs.
“I don’t know if at the polling station level they are going to understand about this,” Koul Panha said. With only two days left before Sunday’s polls, he said, “I don’t know if the PECs can instruct people effectively on this.”
Comfrel had for weeks been asking for an order giving established observer groups priority, but the NEC still worried that monitors from his group would be excluded because of a surplus of observers from other NGOs.
“I don’t know if at the polling station level they are going to understand about this,” Koul Panha said. With only two days left he said, “I don’t know if the PECs can instruct people effectively on this.”
For weeks, Comfrel had been asking for an order giving established observer groups priority, but the NEC refused, saying it could not show a preference.
Koul Panha said he believed Thursday’s order was a result of “last-minute pressure” from the international community.
The Joint International Observer Group, the umbrella group for more than 500 international election monitors, released a statement last week expressing grave concern about the “sudden and massive accreditation” of more than 60,000 national observers.
JIOG officials have said they recognize the efforts of Comfrel, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Coffel) and the Neutral and Independent Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) because the three meet international standards for election monitoring.
Some of the NGOs approved to provide national observers are accused of selling observer cards to people with promises of high-paying jobs. Others are alleged to have links with the CPP and military personnel loyal to the party.
Those links have fueled fears of an attempt to crowd out established observers with those who might be sympathetic to the CPP.
The NEC on Sunday announced it was taking steps to cut the number of observers in half. But at Wednesday’s daily press conference, Im Suorsdei admitted that more than 37,000 observer accreditation cards had already been distributed and the electoral body could not revoke them.
What he did not say at the press conference was that the NEC had approved nearly 1,000 new observers Tuesday for the Cambodian Coordination Committee (CCOC), an NGO formerly headed by Chea Cham Roeun, now an NEC member. CCOC had already been cleared to provide 900 observers. Chea Cham Roeun could not be reached for comment Thursday.
One NEC member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the electoral body was deeply divided on the observer issue, with some members pushing for rescinding the accreditation cards and others for approval of more observers.
Tuesday’s decision to approve the 1,000 extra observers for CCOC represented a victory for one side, he said, while smoothing the path for Comfrel, Coffel and Nicfec was a win for the other, he said.