The government needs to do more to address several problems that undermine the growth of democracy in the country, a delegation from the US-based National Democratic Institute announced Friday, along with several recommendations for changes prior to the country’s July national elections.
The NDI panel spent several days last week meeting with representatives from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, opposition parties, NGOs, the diplomatic community and other groups ahead of a news conference on April 4. NDI has been studying elections in Cambodia since the early 1990s.
Peter Manikas, NDI director of Asia programs, said that there has been some progress in revamping the National Election Committee and political violence has diminished.
However, “this is far from a level playing field,” he said.
The delegation listed the lack of an independent judiciary or freedom of assembly for opposition parties and their apparent lack of access to broadcast media, the potential for voters to be deleted from the national voter rolls and allegations of intimidation against the political opposition, as some of the threats to democracy.
“The challenges here are still too many and they’re not being addressed,” delegate Sam Gejdenson, a former US congressman, told reporters.
Gejdenson specifically cited Phnom Penh City Hall’s denial of permission for a proposed Sunday rally against inflation by the SRP.
“To see that the SRP has been restricted on its desire to bring its supporters and citizens together, again it undermines our belief that this democracy is developing as it should,” he said.
CPP Lawmaker Cheam Yeap dismissed the delegation’s criticism as unfair and said that Cambodia is making improvements “step by step.”
“NDI does not like the leadership of Cambodia so much. Previously it has judged Cambodia unjustly,” he said.
Commenting on Sunday’s planned rally by the SRP, Cheam Yeap said there are legitimate security concerns with the demonstration, citing the citywide anti-Thai riots in 2003. Security concerns are sometimes used as a blanket excuse by authorities, NDI delegates said.