Opposition Doubts Benefits of Extended UN Election Program

The UNDP has agreed to a two-year extension of its Strengthening Democracy and Electoral Processes program, but opposition leaders say the program is only strengthening the CPP and does not improve dem­ocracy in Cambodia.

The SDEP program, which started in 2006 to support the 2008 national election, has been extended to 2010 but with a significantly lower budget—$2 million, as compared to $5.5 million for 2006 to 2008—UNDP program analyst Heng So­cheath said Friday. The budget cut corresponds to lower material costs during years when there are no major elections, she said.

“The project now focuses on strengthening the electoral process in between ballots,” Heng Socheath said.

“It has changed focus since it was first evaluated in May 2007 and the latest evaluation from 2008 have showed areas we need to improve such as civic engagement, political parties’ support and gender advocacy,” he said.

“We need to work on legal re­forms and on how to convince the public that the [National Election Committee] is an impartial body,” Heng Socheath said.

SDEP provides assistance to the government and the NEC, as well as to state television network TVK so they can provide equitable news coverage of political parties and topics of public interest.

But SRP leader Sam Rainsy said the “UNDP is wasting their money.” He also criticized the funding granted to TVK, saying the content was edited to portray the SRP and other opposition parties “in a bad light.”

“Because all the technicians and the producers are CPP, suppose they shoot me for 20 minutes or one hour…. They will edit the programs. They will always take the worst part so that we appear in a bad light,” he said. Government spokesman and In­formation Minister Khieu Kan­harith denied the accusations that TVK programming was biased and wrote in an e-mail that the government supports the UNDP project because they wish to improve a “participatory democratic process.”

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