A US-based NGO urged the US government to “increase its pressure” on Cambodia in the weeks before its general elections as the European Union readied a monitoring team of more than 100 observers on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the National Election Committee released its final ballot format, and Prime Minister Hun Sen urged his supporters to cover their ears during the pre-election “insulting season.”
The US should release a confidential report by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation on the 1997 grenade attack on Sam Rainsy Party protesters, Daniel Calingaert of the International Republican Institute said Tuesday.
Calingaert hinted that the report could affect the elections, scheduled for July 27, as he addressed a subcommittee of the US House International Relations Committee in Washington. “That report should be released publicly, without further delay, because…the Cambodian people deserve to know who ordered and carried out the attack,” he said.
Calingaert also said the CPP kept a strong grip on local politics and was manipulating the electoral process by blocking the replacement of village chiefs loyal to the ruling party. Vote-buying, media domination by CPP and Funcinpec, and reports of political violence have also marred the run-up to the elections, he said.
This year’s killings of Funcinpec adviser Om Radsady and activist monk Sam Buntheon “provide a stark reminder of what can happen to critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government,” he said.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen, countered in a telephone interview Wednesday that the IRI report is “far from fact.”
“People have the right to select the party they love,” he said. “If IRI’s officials never consider Cambodia as a neutral country, it means IRI is looking down on the Cambodian people.”
“There is no intimidation. If those opposition activists are still afraid, I don’t know what to do about that,” he said, adding that the IRI has close ties to the Sam Rainsy Party.
In his address, Calingaert asked that US Secretary of State Colin Powell meet with Sam Rainsy during his visit at next week’s Asean Regional Forum.
Also Wednesday, Robert Evans, a member of the European Parliament, arrived in Phnom Penh to lead a $1.85 million EU mission to monitor the elections. The mission employs more than 100 observers, including seven experts and 36 long-term observers, according to an EU statement. An EU mission attended the commune elections of 2002 and the 1998 general elections, which they afterward praised as fair and transparent even as opposition parties protested in the streets and alleged that the elections were fraudulent.
At Chaktomuk Theater, parties reacted to their placement on the Election Day ballot, which the National Election Commission released publicly on Wednesday.
The little-known Union of National Solidarity received the No 1 slot, pleasing party President Sim Sokhom. “A lot of voters will easily recognize my number,” he said. “Number one is a very special number, just like number 23, because a lot of the voters are illiterate.”
The coveted 23 spot—the last on the ballot—fell to Funcinpec. “I am very happy that we got number 23…. It will make it easier for voters to recognize Funcinpec,” said Nhiek Bun Chhay, the party’s deputy secretary-general. The country’s top two monks randomly selected the ballot order.
Som Searth, deputy director of the CPP’s central committee, said his party’s number, 17, had symbolic value harkening back to the date of Jan 7, 1979, when Vietnamese-led forces toppled Pol Pot and installed a new government led by Heng Samrin and Hun Sen.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said he was not superstitious about numbers, but that the party’s number, 20, was easy to remember.
Generally, the importance of the ballot order is overblown, said Hang Puthea, president of the election monitoring group Neutral Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections. “Most people prefer to vote according to the party’s name and logo rather than the number,” Hang Puthea said.
Meanwhile, the president of a small opposition party that registered with the NEC and then withdrew said smaller parties are wasting their money on campaigning. “It is useless for my party to participate in the election. It is not free and fair,” said Leng Seng, president of the National Construction Party. He alleged that the CPP started campaigning before the June 26 start date through media outlets owned or influenced by the government.
At least two high-ranking CPP officials made public appearances Wednesday. Hun Sen, speaking on Apsara radio from a road inauguration in Pursat province, responded to recent criticism from Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party officials. “Please, all people who love me and regard me, keep patience, because the insulting season is nearly coming…. If [my supporters] want to respond in any way, they should respond with polite words,” he said.
CPP Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, also speaking at a public inauguration ceremony, at a school in Banteay Meanchey province, accused opposition parties of tainting the election atmosphere with unfair allegations.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren, Lor Chandara and Nhem Chea Bunly)