Nour-Eddine Driss wants to make one thing absolutely clear:
“This is not Untac,” the UN’s top elections official said last week. “The UN is not going to be observing these elections.”
What the international body will do is coordinate observers from dozens of other countries, Driss said. And unlike almost anyone else in Cambodia, he can tell you exactly what that means.
Driss, the acting director of the UN Elections Division, was in Phnom Penh last week to interview candidates for the five-member Elections Assistance Secretariat, which is to be named sometime in the next week.
The secretariat “will assist in training, logistics, analysis, information…process information, analyze the situation and deploy the observers,” Driss said.
Unlike in 1993, the UN will not pronounce whether the elections were free and fair. That kind of statement will be made by the Joint International Observers Group, consisting of the heads of delegations from the European Union, Asean and other groups coming to observe the elections.
However, the UN’s coordinators will analyze information and provide the yardstick the Joint International Observers Group will use to measure the elections’ credibility, Driss said.
UN personnel will not be at the polling stations observing the vote. But the UN will provide the forms that observers use and decide where they are deployed.
In short, the UN will write the rulebook, but not referee the game. It will provide about 350 observers from different countries and backgrounds with a set of common goals, techniques and definitions for tricky terms such as “free and fair” and “credible.”
“It is for the sake of harmonization,” Driss said.
One problem in elections elsewhere has been conflicting statements where one observer group declares elections credible and another calls them fraudulent.
Asked if he believed free and fair elections are possible in Cambodia’s current climate, Driss said he would not be in Phnom Penh if he did not think so.