A coalition of more than 60 NGOs has issued a joint statement expressing concern that recent events including the killing of Om Radsady, the former senior adviser to Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh who was shot dead last week, could cast a dark cloud over the upcoming national elections.
The statement, released Saturday, recounts a litany of disturbing events, including the Jan 29 anti-Thai rioting, the mass arrest of students and journalists immediately afterward, the Feb 6 shooting of a Phnom Penh monk, escalating verbal rhetoric between politicians, and continued intimidation and politically motivated violence at the local level.
“All of these events will have a critical effect on the election process,” the statement says. “These effects include an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for political candidates, activists and NGO workers.”
As a result, the report states, ordinary citizens will not be able to cast their votes freely in the July 27 national elections. The groups issuing the statement included the Committee for Free and Fair Elections; the Neutral, Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections; Star Kampuchea; the Cambodian Youth Council; and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee.
The NGOs claim that the current political climate is even more tense than in 1998—an election that took place in the shadow of 1997’s factional fighting.
But it is the accumulation of so many threatening events, and the fact that they have continued unabated from year to year, that so hampers the voting process, Nicfec President Hang Puthea said. “I am very concerned about recent events that intimidate voters and political activists,” he said on Saturday. “They won’t participate in the elections, because they value their safety more than their vote.”
Even worse, those guilty of political violence are never brought to justice, he added.
But Tep Nitha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee, said Sunday that events such as the deaths of Om Radsady and the monk, Sam Bunthoeun, were routine crimes that had nothing to do with the elections.
Police have blamed Sam Bunthoeun’s shooting and later death on a personal dispute. The Ministry of Interior has maintained that the killing of Om Radsady was the result of a robbery attempt, not a political assassination.
Tep Nitha added that the NEC and the Ministry of Interior will cooperate to ensure that political violence does not occur. “It is our job to ensure that there is no political killing,” he said.
Yong Kim Eng, director of the Khmer Youth Association, said the NEC needs a more concrete, proactive plan to deal with the issue and should meet with law enforcement authorities and NGOs to formulate one.