Democracy About More Than Polling Day
By and | November 1, 2013

The U.N.’s envoy for freedom of as­sembly on Tuesday presented a report to the U.N. General Assem­bly that calls for an approach to election monitoring that looks be­yond polling day to assess wheth­er elections in countries such as Cambodia are “free and fair.”

The report, compiled by Maina Kiai, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, says that election monitoring that focuses only on the freedom present on polling day can give false impressions of a functioning democracy.

The report says that respect for an opposition party’s rights to gather safely and without fear are key to rendering the ritual of election day as genuine.

“The right to…both organize and participate in indoor and outdoor peaceful assemblies, has long proven to be a key one in the context of elections,” it says. “This right enables candidates to such elections to mobilize their supporters and give resonance and visibility to their political messages.”

In an accompanying article published in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, Mr. Kiai wrote of ef­forts by the ruling CPP to “tag” CNRP President Sam Rainsy with politically motivated charges which led to his self-imposed exile until two weeks before the national election.

“A last-minute pardon failed to restore his eligibility for office, and the vote was marred by reports of massive over-registration in key pre­cincts, and heavy-handed at­tempts to suppress popular demonstrations,” he wrote.

“Such abuses should be condemned outright for what they are: clear human rights violations that un­dermine the legitimacy of the democratic process.”

Mr. Kiai concluded that election monitors should pay closer attention to what happens in the lead-up to an election before declaring it free and fair.

“Democracy is a year-round job, not a one-off ritual that happens on election day,” he said.

CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap on Thursday dismissed claims that the government does not respect freedom of association, citing the CNRP’s two three-day mass demonstrations held last month and in September.

“In the demonstrations, they curse and criticize the winning party, and hold the winning party hostage—what do they want now?” Mr. Yeap said.

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