Monitor: ‘Serious Flaws’ in Election Run-Up

The run-up to the July 27 general elections has exhibited “critical flaws,” including media domination by the ruling party and po­litical violence and intimidation, according to a report issued Thursday by a US-based election-monitoring group.

Also Thursday, a high-ranking CPP official threatened to sue the Khmer Front Party and bar it from the elections after its pres­ident alleged that CPP officials stole ballots in the 1998 general elections.

A delegation from the National Democratic Institute for Inter­national Affairs said Thursday it had noted a decline in political killings since 1998 but also “heavy-handed behavior by the ruling CPP.”

The group cited the Tuesday night airing of a 30-minute CPP-produced television program blaming Funcinpec for the 1997 factional fighting as evidence that the ruling party was “chilling” the political atmosphere.

“We were told by government officials this was a needed retaliation for statements that were made” by Funcinpec leaders, said the delegation’s Patrick Merloe.

“For such an act to be taken…is disproportionate, inappropriate and has a chilling effect,” he said.

The delegation’s statement also condemned what it called an “ominous” statement issued Sunday by the pro-CPP Pagoda Boys saying Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh could “face results” for his criticism of the group.

The delegation released its findings at a news conference at Hotel Le Royal after a week of interviewing government officials, opposition party members, journalists and members of election-monitoring groups. About one-third of the delegation’s statement addressed “unfair” media ac­cess. There is an “overwhelming imbalance of coverage of the ruling party” compared to Funcin­pec and the Sam Rainsy Party, it stated.

The  NDI delegation urged the Cambodian Television Associa­tion to reverse its decision last month not to air paid political ad­vertisements.

For the first time, National Election Committee regulations allow political parties to campaign through private media, but media companies have said they will not participate. Critics say the companies, widely regarded as CPP- and Funcinpec-controlled, are bowing to government pressure.

Private media would be an important platform for the campaigns of lesser-known parties and would break up the dis­propor­tionate allotment of public air time to competing parties, the delegation said. The NEC has promised free and equal air time on TV5 for the 25 participating parties.

In addition, between June 12 and July 26, TVK and two radio stations will air programs on parties’ platforms, the government announced Thursday. Tagged an “equity broadcast,” time will be allotted to parties based on their current standing in government.

The CPP will receive 44 percent and Funcinpec 29 percent of the air time. The Sam Rainsy Party will have 19 percent, said Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Infor­mation.

Though vote-buying and intimidation continue, the overall election environment is better than in 1998, the NDI delegation said, noting a decline in political killings. The Ministry of Interior said this week that none of the recent slayings of 17 political activists were politically motivated.

Meanwhile, at a meeting be­tween the NEC and representatives of political parties, the CPP’s election representative, Ouk Kim­han, said the CPP will sue Khmer Front Party President Mau Moeung Yat, who has ac­cused the CPP of distributing fake ballots in 1998. “I will sue the Khmer Front Party not to participate in the election,” Ouk Kim­han said. “Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party didn’t complain about stealing votes. Why does the Khmer Front Party, which didn’t participate in the election, accuse the CPP like that?”

The NEC on Thursday adopted a code of regulations it said would provide “transparency” and prevent ballot-stealing and other voting crimes. But the NEC balked at a request by Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay to allow the three main political parties to monitor the printing of the ballots and their distribution throughout the country.

Political parties and interested NGOs will be told of the process only after the ballots are printed, said NEC Director of Operations Em Sophat.

(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)

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