Poll Monitors Boycott NGO Committee

Angered over the National As­sembly’s passage of what they call flawed commune election legislation, officials from Cambodia’s three main election monitors say they will refuse to join an election committee made up of NGOs.

“We are afraid we will lose our independence [on the NGO committee],” said Chea Vannath, president the Center of Social Devel­opment.

Despite months of lobbying from monitors, lawmakers passed both commune election laws with no changes to the original articles banning independent candidates and establishing a government-appointed commission to oversee local ballots.

“We are not at all satisfied with this law,” said Thun Saray, first representative of the Committee for Free and Fair elections in Cambodia.

The Assembly did give the Sam Rainsy Party a seat on the Nat­ional Election Committee, the government’s caretaker of Cam­bo­­dian elections. But this move falls far short of the massive  NEC overhaul deman­ded by monitors.

Monitors claim the legislation, which will be debated by the Sen­ate, gives the central government too much control over local decision-making.

Though they will again attempt to lobby senators to make some of their suggested changes, monitors say they have little hope that the election legislation passed by that body will be any different.

“We do not expect much,” said Sek Sophal, executive director of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elec­tions. No date has been set yet for Senate debate to begin.

Increasingly pessimistic that fair commune elections can be held, monitors have begun to distance themselves from the pro­cess, announcing earlier this week that they will begin focusing on the “big picture” of elections in Cambodia rather than the commune ballot specifically. Elections in Cambodia’s more than 1,600 communes are expected in January 2002, allowing the NEC 11 months to prepare for a major undertaking involving potentially thousands of candidates from a few dozen political parties.


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