If there was any doubt about the present warmth in the often tense relations between the Cambodian and Thai militaries, a recent meeting between the two army bosses made a point of putting it to rest.
The entire election process was neither free nor fair, as it was marred by the interference of government officials and evidence of more than 10,000 cases of voting irregularities, according to an evaluation conducted by local NGOs and election monitors.
A group of 21 NGOs—which dubbed themselves The Situation Room—found that serious problems existed in the lead-up to the July 28 poll and continued through the post-election period.
“The environment of intimidation, the threats made, the lack of fairness and integrity of the process and administration of the election affected the results of the election by giving the ruling party an unfair advantage,” the groups said in a joint statement Friday.
“The election results do not fully reflect the will of the voters.”
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Project, told a press conference on Friday that the participation of government officials, armed forces, police and local authorities in campaigning for the ruling CPP contributed to an environment of intimidation.
“This often disturbed or prevented the campaign of other parties,” he said, adding that the lack of media access for parties other than Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP to broadcast their message contributed to an unfair pre-election environment.
Mr. Sam Oeun also said the NGOs found more than 10,000 cases of voting irregularities on election day, including the transportation of voters from one province to vote in another and the indelible ink that was used to identify voters who had cast their ballots, which, it was found, could be easily removed. There were also missing names and duplicate names on the voter lists at polling stations.
The post-election period has not fared much better as the National Election Committee [NEC] and Constitutional Council of Cambodia—which both have strong ties to the ruling party—are not considered independent. Complaints submitted by the opposition CNRP to be reviewed by the Constitutional Council were not fairly reviewed, the statement says.
“There is partiality and lack of independence of the election organizing institutions and election dispute resolutions—specially the National Election Committee and the Constitutional Council of Cambodia—with a lack of transparency and a lack of justice in fulfilling their duties and their roles,” Mr. Sam Oeun said, adding that recommendations from monitors on electoral reform were ignored.
The 21 NGOs and election monitors are calling for the membership and structure of the NEC and Constitutional Council to be reformed.
“The election law should be reviewed and it’s better to bring back the idea we used to raise in the past about creating a separate election court,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
The findings by the NGOs echo an August report by the U.N. human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi.
Mr. Subedi expressed concern over the NEC’s lack of independence, the lack of freedom of expression, the integrity of the voter lists and “a general lack of transparency in the electoral process.”
Though the NEC’s preliminary results give the CPP a victory, the opposition has maintained that the results are flawed due to widespread electoral fraud.
Tep Nytha, NEC secretary-general, said Friday that he welcomed the NGOs recommendations, but he continued to defend his organization of the electoral process.
“The NEC just implemented procedures as stipulated by the law. It’s [the NGOs’] right to ask for reform, but I wouldn’t comment on their evaluation because they only came to these conclusions based on their observations,” Mr. Nytha said.
Mr. Nytha also claimed that the NEC was independent, saying that all NEC members had resigned from their political parties when they began working for the election body.
“Compared to previous elections, we have done much development and improvement.”
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