The European Union’s chief election observer has given his overall stamp of approval to the first phase of the electoral process, but said concerns still remain over the political climate surrounding the polls themselves.
The concerns voiced Tuesday by Sven Linder reflected many of those already raised by local and international election watchdogs. But unlike those groups, Linder declined to draw a definite conclusion on the threat they might pose to free and fair elections.
“I don’t like to make predictions or comments on a process that isn’t finished,” Linder said at a press conference held at the EU observation unit’s headquarters in the capital.
But the completed voter registration period, he said, could form “a satisfactory foundation for free and fair elections.” He said his conclusions were similar to those voiced Saturday by the Friends of Cambodia.
The National Election Committee has reported 98 percent of eligible voters as registered for the election, despite a number of technical problems in the process, as well as complaints of harassment and intimidation of voters.
Linder said that while widely reported problems in the process had been “mainly of a technical and practical nature, rather than politically motivated,” the 14 long-term EU observers had also reported “a number of acts of intimidation.”
These, he said, included gifts given in exchange for allegiance; verbal threats; interference of village chiefs in the registration process; thumbprinting; oaths of allegiance; and the collection of voter registration cards.
Linder identified intimidation by village chiefs, the large majority of whom belong to the CPP, as the most troubling concern remaining for the electoral process. In addition, he said, the question of impunity for the politically motivated killings remains “of central importance.”
Three such suspected killings have been reported in the past week, and more than 80 others documented by the UN since July last year have yet to be investigated.
The government must still make “concrete steps to find and punish the perpetrators before election day to counter fears of intimidation,” Linder said. “For elections to be truly free and fair, they must be truly free from fear.”
But an assessment of the freedom and fairness of the elections will have to wait until after the polls, Linder said, refusing to be drawn into making an appraisal based on the current climate.
A statement from the Sam Rainsy Party handed out by a spokesman at the press conference, however, declared that the opposition is not looking for such a prediction.
Rather, they requested “clear and measurable” standards be set by which to evaluate the process, and a commitment that the results should not be recognized if the standards are not met.
No such standards have been publicized by the EU, though Linder made reference to “internationally accepted standards” as well as UN guidelines.
But he conceded that if the problems already noted by EU observers continue, they might have a negative effect on the international judgment of the polls.