“To accept this election would, in fact, devalue the worth of elections in building democracies around the world.”
That’s what Lorne Craner, the president of the US International Republican Institute, said Monday about Cambodia’s July 26 elections. He was speaking to a US Congress subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
“While the July 26 election day itself impressed many observers, including IRI, those of us who monitored the pre-election process, and remained to observe the counting and longer-term post-election events, believe that…this election fell below the standard needed to be judged acceptable,” Craner told US lawmakers.
IRI condemned the election process as a whole and particularly criticized the post-election period as not conducive to forming a democratic society. “In the longer term, after voting and counting have ended, Cambodia’s government has failed to act in the way one would expect in a democracy,” Craner said.
It cited a halt in vote counting in the mid-afternoon of July 27, the National Election Committee’s unwillingness to investigate more than a few of the more than 800 allegations of counting irregularities, the Constitutional Council’s similar refusal to hear the majority of complaints and the change in the seat allocation formula. “It should by now be clear that any hope for democracy in Cambodia lies not with Hun Sen, but with Cambodia’s opposition, whom we should support,” said Craner.
The conclusions of IRI do not represent the views of the US government but will be taken into account by US international policy makers considering resumption of aid to pre-July 1997 levels.
IRI, which has observed more than 70 elections worldwide since 1993, monitored the election process and will release a summary report in the next few weeks, after testifying to both houses of the US Congress.
Craner lists intimidation of the opposition, a grenade attack thought to be directed at Sam Rainsy at the Ministry of Interior, the UN Center for Human Rights estimate of 20 people killed or missing during the weeks of demonstrations, Hun Sen’s accusation that Sam Rainsy was responsible for the Sept 7 grenade explosion at Hun Sen’s house and the travel ban on opposition politicians.
The group began monitoring the election process in August 1997. The year-long observation led IRI to characterize the July 26 election as “among the worst we have observed since 1993,” said Craner. The group believes the pre-election phase was marred by the aftermath of last July’s factional fighting, including “the murder of up to 100 opposition members.”