Changes must be made in the election process—including a more independent National Election Committee, better dissemination of voter information and better punishment of election law violators—before the 2003 national elections, Cambodia’s three election watchdogs said Tuesday.
The Committee for Free and Fair Elections, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections issued a joint statement declaring that while Sunday’s polling and ballot counting were “positive overall” and “acceptable,” the elections were neither free nor fair because of pre-election problems.
Many outside election observation groups have come to similar conclusions.
The groups agreed on the importance of reforming the National Election Committee “into a more impartial and independent body.” The NEC has been widely criticized, especially for refusing to air a series of voter information roundtables the NEC organized and then refused to televise.
“Equitable access to the media must be considerably improved,” the group stated. “The media should also play a more active role in voter education.”
A Comfrel study found that when television and radio stations broadcast political news, 82 percent of it was devoted to news of government activities.
The CPP was mentioned 9 percent of the time, while Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party were mentioned less than 1 percent of the time.
The groups also contended the three-day voter registration periods were too short, preventing an estimated one million eligible Cambodians from registering.
They proposed the electoral system be changed so that independent candidates could run for office without the backing of a national party.
“The fact that a candidate must be a national party member… should not be a legitimate reason for exclusion,” the groups stated.