The National Election Committee (NEC) has said that the dearth of foreign donations and observers coming in for this year’s national elections is a sign of the international community’s growing confidence in the government’s ability to do the job itself.
In a statement received Wednesday, the NEC said that the only foreign aid received so far for July’s elections is $26,000 worth of computer equipment from South Korea. And with only three months to go until polling day, only 18 international observers have signed up to date. That compares to the 592 international observers that took part in the last national elections in 2008 and 1,156 in 2003.
“It is true that the support and presence of international observers during the elections are important and increase confidence, transparency, freedom and fairness,” the statement says. “The support and participation of international observers, however, are not particularly needed to ensure the legitimacy and acceptance of any election,” the NEC said.
Despite recent reports from election monitors claiming that this year’s voter list is seriously flawed and that the vote could be the least fair in 20 years, NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said the growing disengagement from foreign donors and observers was a natural evolution for a developing country.
“Normally, international observers and donors always flock to places with new elections,” he said. “But as we grow stronger both socially and economically and can run our own elections, they will automatically decrease,” he said.
Mr. Nytha said the government could now cover the costs of running the national elections by itself and was not expecting foreign donors to foot much of this year’s $21 million bill because of the financial troubles still facing the European Union (E.U.) and other past benefactors.
“Still, the NEC keeps calling out for more donors and observers for the elections,” Mr. Nytha said.
Mr. Nytha said the 18 individuals signed up as observers this year include 12 from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), four from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, also based in Washington, and two from Indonesia.
But not all of the 18 will be monitoring election workers directly.
NDI country director Laura Thornton said her group’s staff would not be observing the elections directly but had permission to access the polling stations on election day in order to monitor the work of the 800 to 900 local observers being mobilized by Berlin-based organization Transparency International.
As for international observers, Ms. Thornton said it was too soon to say for sure that no more international observers would come. But while international observer teams can be rounded up in a matter of weeks, she added, “big international observation efforts would probably have started planning already.”
Whoever does show up, they will not be from the E.U.
The regional body sent observers to watch over the 2008 national vote and decided that they had “fallen short of a number of key international standards for democratic elections.”
In February, the E.U. confirmed that it would not be sending observers this time because it had not been invited by the government.
On Wednesday, the E.U. delegation’s minister-counselor, Alain Vandersmissen, took issue with the government’s failure to implement some of the E.U.’s recommended reforms after the previous national election.
“Various of the recommendations made at the occasion of the previous election observation mission in 2008 are still valid,” he said.
The E.U.’s recommendations called for, among other things, an independent NEC, a simplified voter registration procedure and a free and impartial media environment.
While the E.U. will not be helping to fund this year’s elections, Mr. Vandersmissen said an E.U. team had arrived this week to start advising the NEC on providing fair media access and provide other training in the lead-up to the vote.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said the U.S. was also supporting voter education and candidate training efforts but would not be directly helping to foot the government’s election bills, either.
As for sending observers, Mr. McIntosh said, “we are still investigating our options.”
“No matter our decision,” he added, “we support the goal of free and fair elections in Cambodia by calling for full political participation, multiparty competition, unfettered media coverage of the electoral process and an impartial National Election Committee.”
U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a similar message to Prime Minister Hun Sen in a one-on-one meeting when he was here in November attending a pair of regional summits.
In March, NDI released the results of its audit of the latest voter list and concluded that it was less accurate than the one heading into the 2008 elections.
With more than 1 in 10 names on the list most likely not belonging to real people, and with 9 percent of past voters taken off the new list unfairly, it warned of the potential for more fraud and more disenfranchised voters.
Following its own audit of the list, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia announced earlier this month that 1.25 million eligible voters could lose their right to cast a ballot this year.
The NEC has rejected the results of both audits.
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