Rules Bent to Nip Observer Furor in the Bud

Amid pressure from the international community, the National Election Committee has “secretly” distributed official yellow election observer cards to three internationally recognized Cambodian NGOs, NEC officials said Tues­day. 

The move to facilitate accreditation of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel), the Coalition for Free and Fair El­ections (Coffel) and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cam­bodia (Nicfec) comes as the NEC moves to make it harder for other organizations to get observer cards.

“We have given them easy access,” one NEC member said of Comfrel, Coffel and Nicfec. “We know we are being biased, but it is the only way to make sure they are able to do their activities freely. We don’t want this issue to jeopardize the election process as a whole.”

In effect, the NEC action en­sures that the three groups will make up the bulk of national ob­servers, who are now expected to number no more than 13,000.

The unexpected surplus of more than 70,000 observers from obscure groups, some with suspected ties to the military and politicians, had sparked concern among the international community that observers from groups that meet international standards would be crowded out on election day.

An NEC administrative official confirmed that observer cards were being given directly to Comfrel, Coffel and Nicfec. “It is done secretly, but please don’t use my name,” he said.

Kuol Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said his organization has received 7,000 observer cards from the NEC already and is expecting 2,000 more soon.

“I think it is a good measure of the NEC to respond to this controversial situation,” Kuol Panha said.

The NEC member, who asked not to be named, said election officials are now under intense pressure from both outside and from within the NEC to issue cards to certain groups.

National elections officials have now instructed provincial election commissions not to issue any more cards unless groups meet stringent requirements, including listing funding sources, the NEC member said.


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