battambang town – The EU’s special representative called Friday for an investigation into the large number of national observers accredited for Sunday’s elections, while the provincial election commission worked through the night to get internationally recognized groups registered in time.
Glenys Kinnock, visiting election officials and observers here, said she was astounded to hear that 60,000 national observers had been accredited nationwide, apparently without detailed checking into the groups’ procedures or possible ties to political groups.
“This is indefensible,” she said Friday morning. “We have to ask for an investigation into how this has occurred and who has funded these organizations.”
Kinnock said she worried that recognized observer groups might be crowded out of the polling stations, despite an order Thursday from the National Election Committee that the three groups meeting international standards be given priority at polling stations.
Kinnock met Friday with frustrated members of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel) in Battambang, who were still waiting for more than 500 observer cards.
The group is waiting to get the yellow cards from the provincial election commission, although the NEC this week issued at least 7,000 yellow cards to Comfrel to distribute to its observers. As of Friday, Battambang observers were still waiting for cards from either source.
“The problems is we still need these cards, but they haven’t yet arrived. If we don’t have a badge we can’t to into the station,” Som Kol, Comfrel’s president in Battambang, told the EU envoy.
The NEC instructed provincial election officials Thursday to give priority on polling day to Comfrel and two additional established monitoring groups, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Coffel) and the Neutral and Independent Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec).
A provincial election official present at the meeting confirmed the PEC had received the instructions but said the polling stations still had to be informed.
A total of 2,670 observers have already been accredited by the provincial election commission. The Buddhist Relief Association received all 1,277 cards it requested. Another group, Foffec, asked for 2,758 but was only granted 350, “because the PEC ran out of cards,” one official said Friday. Comfrel was originally awarded 108 observers and Coffel 23. Coffel has since asked for a further 606 cards.
“This is very worrying. I’m sure there has been malpractice at every level and there must have been a handing out of cards without proper checking,” Kinnock said, adding that she would insist on an investigation after the election into the apparently indiscriminate awarding of observer cards. “Afterwards, people must be made accountable for what’s happened, whatever their motives.”
Provincial election commission President Srun Kong told The Cambodia Daily earlier this month the PEC had not originally checked observer cards against identity cards, resulting in some mistakes.
“Some NGOs submitted a list of names but the PEC was negligent,” he said in a July 14 interview. “Now we are checking identity cards when people submit for observer cards.”
The PEC is now verifying those cards issued without identity checks, he confirmed Friday. Of the 1,277 cards handed out to the Buddhist Relief Association, for example, the PEC had managed to check 300 by Friday. Srun Kong admitted the final check would have to be done at polling stations.
“They have to show an identity card and an observer card; otherwise, they cannot go in,” he said.
On Friday afternoon, PEC officials were anxiously filling out forms and stamping observer cards for waiting Coffel and Comfrel representatives. One official said they had only just received the fax from the NEC giving authorization to stamp the remaining cards.
“I don’t think we will respect normal office hours today,” he said, “I think we will be working all night.”
Watching carefully across the table, Sao Savath was waiting to take his batch to Mong Russei district where he would distribute them to Coffel members today.
“I will call the group leaders on the radio and they will pick up the cards,” he said, optimistic they could distribute the cards by Sunday morning.
Kong was still unsure Friday as to what instructions he should give commune-level officials regarding those organizations who had not supplied the PEC with election training details.
The NEC sent a fax Monday telling the provincial commission to check the training programs and financial details of all the organizations involved in the observation process. Srun Kong said only three organizations—Kiyad, Foffec and Coffel—had so far handed over training information.
When asked whether organizations that had not submitted their training schedule would be allowed into polling stations, Srun Kong said he was still waiting for instruction from the NEC.
The Buddhist Relief Association said Friday they had only trained 200 of their observers.
“We sent 200 people to Phnom Penh twice for a short training session,” said Sour Rein, a deputy president of the association in Battambang.
With only one day left before the election, he said he still believed these people could train all the others before Sunday morning.