Though Improved, Vote Not ‘Truly Free’: Report

The 2008 National Assembly race was more peaceful than past elections, but the political environment was “not fully conducive to truly free and fair elections,” ac­cording to a new report from the Committee for Free And Fair Elections.

The watchdog group released the 108-page analysis of the July 27 election late Monday in order to “advance the debate on the reform and promotion of free and fair elections,” the report said, utilizing data collected by more than 10,000 observers stationed at more than 60 percent of the country’s polling and vote counting stations.

Comfrel compared 2008 data to the National Assembly races in 1993, 1998 and 2003, as well as the commune council elections in 2002 and 2007. About 8.1 million people participated in the July election, the report said, and those voters reflected an increase in “knowledge and understanding” of voter rights and responsibilities.

Even so, violence, intimidation and threats continued to plague the electoral process, creating an “environment of fear,” the NGO reported, though overall numbers of cases were lower. There were 58 cases of murder, threats and intimidation in this year’s election, the report said.

The number of civil servants who actively supported the ruling CPP in the public realm increased, Comfrel also reported, citing “hundreds” of cases. More voters than ever “faced obstructions and complicated procedures during registration, voter list cleanup and the polling period,” especially related to the much-criticized Form 1018, the report said.

Media access, however, im­proved, according to Comfrel, though the group found that “at least 39 TV and radio stations were biased toward only the CPP.”

The National Election Commit­tee rejected fewer complaints in the election process—45 percent in 2008, compared to rejecting 80 percent in the 2003 election. This is an improvement, Comfrel said, but it indicates that “the NEC still does not have in place a professional and legitimate investigation mechanism” for inquiry and evidence collection.

As a result, Comfrel is advocating a number of reforms, including: revising the voter registration process, doing away with the 1018 form, making the NEC a neutral body with stronger complaint resolution abilities, and creating a law on political financing to further transparency and fairness at election time.

Comfrel also said it sees a need for enforcing laws on public servant neutrality, diversifying the leadership of the National Assembly and increasing the number of seats in the National Assembly from 123 to 130 in order to reflect population growth.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Tuesday that he had reviewed the report, but he shrugged off the Comfrel criticism: “Some NGOs always criticize the NEC, and it is normal.”

CPP Lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Tuesday by phone that election analysis is helpful, noting that he had also read the report.

“I have agreed there are some issues that the NEC should check up on,” he said. “I think that we are not perfect, and we will keep what’s right and cut out what’s wrong.”

SRP Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua, who said she also read the report, agreed that the election wasn’t totally free and fair: “The NEC is not neutral, and this election was prepared by the CPP, who illegally eliminated voters’ names from the voter lists.”


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