Observers Arriving, But Are They Enough?

About 470 international short-term election observers are scheduled to arrive in Cambodia in the next week, according to the UN Electoral Assistance Secre­tariat.

The first 22 observers will arrive from Canada Sunday, followed by delegations from more than 30 countries and NGOs throughout the week.

Opposition parties and human rights groups urged an increase in the number of international observers for the July 26 polls, but few new monitors have been pledged.

Still, EAS chief Jacques Carrio said this week that the Joint International Observer Group, the umbrella organization for all international observers, will have enough monitors to judge whether the elections are free and fair.

“We have enough observers to gather information for the JIOG to make an assessment,” he said.

The observers will be divided into about 235 two-person mobile monitoring teams who will visit about six polling stations on election day. That will give a view of 1,300-1,500 stations, or a little more than 10 percent of the polling places.

Carrio said that such a percentage is standard in election assessments around the globe. Plus, he said, the joint observers group can communicate with Cambo­dian observers, who are expected to be stationed in most polling places.

“I have always seen the role of national and international ob­servers as complementary,” he said.

However, many in Cambodia still say there should be many more international observers.

“I don’t think it is enough,” said Funcinpec official May Sam Oeun.

While he acknowledged that there would probably be enough national observers to cover most polling stations, May Sam Oeun said foreign observers are “still very important to the confidence of the voter.”

“The Cambodian culture of impunity and violence is such that [voters] cannot trust the authorities, but when they see foreign observers it builds the confidence of the electorate,” May Sam Oeun said. “I’m not discounting my Cam­bodian colleagues, but…I think that the foreign observers would be less likely to be intimidated.”

Chea Vannath, a board member of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, one of 13 NGOs providing national observers, also said that more international monitors are needed.

“It is just like a survey—the bigger the sample, the less error,” Chea Vannath said. “How can you observe when you go place to place and don’t observe the whole process?

“It is not enough, but it is better than nothing. At least it will be able to give confidence to the local observers.”

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