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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Buying your way into democracy - NEC bribes alleged

Buying your way into democracy - NEC bribes alleged

P ROSPECTS for free and fair elections look more doubtful than ever after local NGOs

were offered $100 bribes to vote for a National Election Commission (NEC) candidate

with close relations to the CPP.

Khmer Youth Development Organization President Chea Chamroeun captured 84 of 156

total votes in a Dec 29 ballot of local NGOs at the Interior Ministry to choose their

representative on the commission.

Voters later revealed they had attended a dinner hosted by Chea Chamroeun and Om

Yentieng, an adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, the night before the vote.

Sok An, a CPP Minister was also present.

"When I arrived at the restaurant I noticed that someone who is always with

Hun Sen was at the entrance greeting the guests. It was Om Yentieng,"one NGO

worker said.

Sok An arrived afterward and visited each table for a toast, reminding attendees:

"Don't forget to vote for Chea Chamroeun tomorrow," according to the NGO

worker, who requested anonymity.

Two people present at the dinner said NGO representatives were told to visit Chamroeun's

offices the next morning to receive $100 and to participate in a mock election to

make sure they knew how to vote in the real one that afternoon.

Chamroeun denied allegations of direct $100 bribes, but acknowledged that he paid

for the dinner and for the travel expensives of some of the NGO people who came from

the provinces. "This is democracy. It's a way to lobby," he said. "Some

of my rivals did the same. But they paid for only a small banquet," he said,

adding that he had paid $2,000 for his 300-strong campaign dinner.

Chea Chamroeun, who also runs the NGO umbrella group Cambodian Coordination Committee

(CCOC) - which is not related to the CCC - reportedly told those present in a speech

that he would provide their NGOs with work if he was elected.

Later, his staff canvassed the crowd, telling them they would receive "a big

green note" if they came by the CCOC office the morning of the vote and promised

to select Chamroeun, according to one NGO representative.

The man said that two members of his NGO went to the CCOC the next day and saw participants

being handed cash by CCOC officials.

His staff did not accept any money, but were asked to take part in a mock election

for the NEC position, along with about 90 other people. "They were told which

name to mark. The list was exactly the same as the one we were given in the afternoon

[at the real Interior Ministry election]," he said.

At the official afternoon vote, Chamroeun defeated the other main contender, Khmer

Institute of Democracy director Lao Mong Hay, for the sole NGO representative on

the 11-member NEC.

The election body will have prime responsibility for organizing and supervising the

national elections scheduled for July 26.

Center for Social Development President Pok Than called the vote a disappointing

development that will jeopardize the holding of a genuine election to determine who

Cambodians truly want to lead their country.

"I am very much disappointed that the people who are supposed to monitor the

election have already been corrupted," Pok Tan said. "What kind of elections

will these be?"

Pok Than said the election watchdog NGO he heads, COFFEL, and its sister organization,

COMFREL, both voted for Lao Mong Hay, who received 45 votes.

The soiled ballot has alarmed COFFEL so much that the independent monitoring group

will meet soon to decide whether or not to continue to participate in the election

effort.

Chea Chamroeun, meanwhile, defended the vote and the earlier dinner as on the level.

He said Om Yentieng and Sok An attended solely to judge his influence and popularity

among the NGOs and did not influence any of the attending voters.

Om Yentieng denied greeting guests and responded angrily to questions about the dinner

and the cash. "Are you accusing me of having financial dealings with Chea Chamroeun?

Do you have any proof?" he asked.

The Hun Sen aide added that he did not see any money change hands. He did, however,

approve of the dinner, calling it a lobbying tactic often used by prominent US politicians

including President Bill Clinton.

A United Nations human rights official alleged that it is common knowledge among

foreign donors that Chea Chamroeun receives funding from the CPP, but did not accuse

the CPP of bankrolling the dinner or paying bribes for him.

The Khmer Youth Development Organization was set up by Chamroeun in the Thai-border

refugee camps in 1985, but after returning to Phnom Penh, he switched allegiances

from Funcinpec to the CPP to receive more financial support, according to the rights

worker.

"Chea Chamroeun does not have any confidence from the donor countries,"

said the official, who asked not to be named. "Donors know that the money is

coming from CPP."

Preparations to convene the NEC - an independent body charged in the election law

with organizing, monitoring and verifying the election - quickly began after parliament

and government leaders settled on a July 26 election day for the 1998 polls.

The long-awaited election law was passed Dec 19 by the full Assembly with the late

change of adding two extra seats in the next legislature for Pailin and Kep municipalities.

The NEC will include a president and vice president - both to be selected from "among

eminent Khmer personalities" - two Interior Ministry representatives, two "Khmer

citizens who are eligible to vote", one NGO representative and one representative

from each of the four sitting parties in the National Assembly.

The Interior Ministry is charged with gathering a list of nominees for the commission,

which will then be forwarded first to the Council of Ministers for approval and then

on to the National Assembly for final passage.

Ranariddh loyalist Lu Laysreng, who briefly returned from self-exile as head of an

official Funcinpec delegation, asserted Dec 25 that politics had already seeped into

the nomination process, with Funcinpec and the CPP effectively dividing up responsibility

for naming most of the NEC seats.

However, he placed extreme importance on the NGO seat, saying it was the only position

on the commission that could be truly unbiased.

Sources confirmed that co-Ministers of Interior Sar Kheng and You Hockry will each

be responsible for nominating one ministry representative and one "Khmer citizen"

representative.

The CPP will also get its choice for NEC president, former State of Cambodia minister

Chheng Phon, while Funcinpec has contented itself with the nomination of Cambodian

Institute for Human Rights head Kassie Neou for the vice presidency, according to

insiders.

Sar Kheng and You Hockry would neither confirm nor deny a deal on the top two NEC

positions. Both, however, said they had made their other selections, but would not

make them public until after the nomination list was sent to the Council of Ministers.

You Hockry described his common-man selection as a Khmer-American working as the

director of an NGO, and his Interior choice as "a top aide."

Selection of the four party representatives, tangled by splits in the BLDP and Funcinpec,

were handed to Assembly First Vice President Loy Sim Chheang to sort out and submit

to the Interior Ministry.

Loy Sim Chheang said at press time that problems still existed with the BLDP seat,

with the self-exiled faction loyal to Son Sann and party members in Phnom Penh each

fronting a candidate.

Surprisingly, outspoken BLDP parliamentarian Thach Reng, who replaced Son Sann in

the Assembly a year ago, and Information Minister Ieng Mouly both told the Post they

support the same candidate - Keo Lundy, a former refugee camp administrator on the

Thai border.

BLDP officials in Bangkok could not be reached for comment, but Loy Sim Chheang said

they support a different candidate for the party's seat. "Maybe we will have

to have a vote attended by both groups," he said.

Lu Laysreng alleged that anti-Royalists have attempted to create further divisions

in Funcinpec by sending three separate nomination requests to himself, party dean

Nady Tan and Siem Reap Governor Toan Chay.

Toan Chay does not appear willing to dispute Ranariddh's supporters on the NEC nomination,

according to Lu Laysreng, and other royalist factions attended a series of meetings

to pick the Funcinpec representative.

Lu Laysreng claimed that Justice Secretary of State Uk Vithun would be given the

nod for the commission seat, but other senior Funcinpec officials later named Suy

Nou - a member of the Funcinpec advanced team with a strong legal background - as

the party's final selection.

The CPP has chosen Prom Nean Vichet, an undersecretary at the Information Ministry,

according to Sar Kheng.

The final NEC party nomination has been forwarded by the tiny Molinaka party, winners

of one Assembly seat in the 1993 election who are now members of a loose political

alliance with the CPP. Molinaka's MP, Ros Rouen, revealed that Chheung Sam Eng, a

party official from Kandal province, has been selected for the commission post.

Election watchers have stressed that with only seven months until voting day, speed

is critical in setting up the NEC to give the body enough time for the monumental

task of hiring and training 6,000 staff for the provincial and commune election commissions,

registering approximately 5.6 million voters and political parties, and setting up

11,127 polling stations.

Potential foreign donors for the polls, chiefly the European Union (EU), hope the

NEC will be up and running by the end of January.

The EU and the Cambodian government are expected in mid-January to sign an agreement

for the release 9.5 million ecu (about $11 million) in equipment and election support,

along with 10 election specialists who will train an initial group of Cambodian electoral

teachers. But the EU is already getting cold feet due to concerns that there will

not be enough time to register voters before an April 27 deadline, Interior Ministry

sources confirmed. Because the deadline is written in the election law, it would

have to be amended by MPs to include an extension.

Now with the nomination of Chea Chamroeun to the NEC, donors may see the writing

on the wall and back out of supporting the polls, the UN rights worker warned. "The

NEC's credibility was already in question. After this election [of the NGO representative]

it will receive even more critics," he said.

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