US-Backed Institute Accused of Interference

The US-backed International Republican Institute has come under fire recently, with strong crit­icism levied against it for al­legedly siding with the Sam Rainsy Party and interfering with Cambodia’s political process.

The IRI—a self-proclaimed nonpartisan US group—has been conducting political party training in Cambodia to various parties since 1993 and has sent high-profile election monitors to Cambo­dia during previous elections.

“In Cambodia, like in many other countries, it is crystal clear that the credibility of IRI electoral observation activities is not higher than the credibility of a partisan political organization dedicated to the political victory of specific political party,” writes Raoul Jennar, a self-proclaimed analyst who is currently working for Ox­fam/Belgium.

In a critical 16-page report on the IRI, Jennar states that, despite IRI’s mandate for neutrality, it has often sided with the Sam Rainsy Party during election times and has misrepresented the political situation in Cambodia.

His report specifically disputes sev­eral IRI reports that have condemned the election process and the government of Hun Sen. Namely, he takes issue with IRI’s criticism of the National Election Committee, stating that the NEC has provided equal ac­cess to all political parties despite complaints by the IRI to the contrary.

“As IRI is so specifically concerned by the fate of the [Sam Rainsy Party], it must be underlined that [Sam Rainsy Party] is on State channels more than 30 minutes every day,” he states.

Although Johanna Kao, the resident program director for IRI, de­clined to comment directly about Jennar’s critique, she said on Wednes­­day that the IRI is concerned first and foremost with pushing democracy and democratic principles in the country.

The IRI, for example, is conducting major training programs for party agents of all political parties in every province, she said. The IRI will also send more than 30 election monitors to the large provinces to monitor the upcoming elections on July 27.

She conceded, though, that the IRI does provide technical materials to the Sam Rainsy Party and about five other parties—but not to Funcinpec or the CPP—be­cause the parties not involved in the coalition government do not have the resources available to them that Funcinpec and the CPP have at their disposal.

Despite this, the IRI has a clear history of supporting the opposition and going against the CPP. The IRI in 1996 “facilitated the creation of the National United Front (NUF), consisting of Fun­cinpec, KND [Khmer Nation Party], BLDP [Buddhist Liberal Dem­ocratic Party], and Khmer Neutral parties to serve as a united opposition to the CPP,” ac­cording to the IRI Web site.

The IRI further states that it “worked closely with the [Sam Rainsy Party] to provide training in a nationwide program of civic education for thousands of women at the sub-provincial level.”

During a June 10 meeting with the US Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific House Inter­national Relations Committee, Daniel Calingaert, the IRI director of Asia Programs, urged the committee to press US Secretary of State Colin Powell to meet with the Sam Rainsy on June 18 during the recent Asean Regional Forum.

If Powell didn’t meet with Sam Rainsy, Calingaert said “the visit may get used to bolster CPP’s electoral prospects,” ac­cording to a copy of the speech posted on the IRI Web site.


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