Though the European Union’s observer team will compile a report following February’s commune elections, EU officials said Friday their endorsement or condemnation of the ballot isn’t meant to be used as leverage by donors in their future dealings with Cambodia.
The team has “no specific [international] political concerns about the final statement and its consequences,” said Carlos Costa Neves, who will lead the observation mission as the country moves towards its first-ever commune elections.
Rather, he said, the chief concern of the mission will be simply to assist in the process of elections that are “indeed democratic and credible” by global standards.
“The European Union recognizes the importance of these elections to the country and the necessity for the elections to be conducted in a proper manner,” he said.
Once completed, though, the mission’s report will simply provide a verdict on whether the elections were credible or not, he said. It will also act as a blueprint for fixing administrative problems in future elections, he said, adding that the mission is here to observe, not to get involved in the politics after the ballot.
Cambodia’s first ever commune elections, scheduled for Feb 26, are meant to decentralize the powerful central government. But the process so far has been muddied by allegations of political intimidation and murder in rural areas.
Many existing commune chiefs have had a hold on power since their appointment in the early 1980s.
The EU mission will be tasked with overseeing the campaign and voting procedures in all of the country’s 1,621 communes—no small task, said Mark Stevens, deputy chief observer. By the time of the elections, the team will comprise 90 observers, who will live in the provinces and continually meet with government and non-government officials there, he said.
This will be the first time an EU mission has attempted to observe such a local election, he said. The job will be complicated, he said, with individual commune issues “bound to have local characteristics.”
Not only are the commune elections important for administrative reasons, but they will also be a “technical stepping stone to the 2003 national elections,” said Stevens, who has participated in 20 other different election observation missions, including those in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and within the Palestinian Authority.