The election process fell short of international standards, the US-based International Republican Institute said Tuesday in a preliminary report.
“The national elections were an improvement over past elections in Cambodia but still fell short of recognized international standards for democratic elections,” according to the report by IRI, a self-described nonpartisan group promoting “democracy, freedom and self-government” outside of the US.
“Severe restrictions on media access and significant obstacles to political activity were evident before the campaign began, and significant media imbalance in the government’s favor continued in the campaign period.” In addition, “political violence and intimidation have worked overwhelmingly to the benefit of [the] CPP,” according to the report.
Former US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who headed the IRI’s monitoring delegation, said at a news conference Tuesday that though overt violence was rare, “less visible but equally effective methods of intimidation were reported to both human rights groups and election observers.”
Whitman said the IRI heard reports of village chiefs forcing villagers to give oaths of allegiance to the CPP and that village chiefs had threatened to confiscate voters’ property.
“The campaign period was also marred by the anti-Vietnamese rhetoric of the major parties, particularly in speeches by the leaders of Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party,” she said.
On Saturday, Whitman defended the IRI’s neutrality, saying that technical assistance had been given to all 23 political parties. She also distanced the IRI from a bill sponsored by US Senator Mitch McConnell calling for increased aid to Cambodia following a regime change.
The bill, Whitman said, expressed “the concern and desire of its sponsors” and none of its sponsors are on the board of the IRI. She also noted that the bill has not been fully endorsed by the US Congress or the administration of US President George W Bush.
In his daily briefing to the US Congress Monday, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said “by and large, things went smoothly” during Cambodia’s election process.
But Boucher cited “reports of some election irregularities and allegations of vote buying and voter intimidation.” He said the US Embassy in Cambodia is looking into those charges.
The delegation from the Transnational Radical Party, however, declared in a statement Monday that no matter the outcome, they had observed “an unfair and non-democratic electoral campaign.”
“Opposition to the daily propaganda of the government and the CPP should have been guaranteed through daily slots granted to all parties,” said Marco Panella, a member of the European Parliament.
“Unfortunately, the parties were forced to decide the contents of those spaces in advance, before the electoral campaign, and without any chance of updating them during the campaign.”
The Radical Party is an independent NGO that promotes democracy and the rule of law.
A statement from the Japanese Government Election Observation Mission declared that the mission members “witnessed no serious violent activities, intimidation or irregularities that may undermine the overall credibility of the election.”