THE Joint International Observation Group's (JIOG) July 27 pronouncement that the
election was "free and fair" was predetermined and should not have been
delivered before the ballot counting was finished, say sources within the group.
Sources within the 32-member JIOG said they believed the statement was pushed through
by at least six key members of the group, who did not want to wait until ballot counting
had finished and JIOG observers were debriefed.
One member said the US, Canada, France, Germany, the UK and the European Union engineered
One JIOG member said the statement's timing - only a day after polls closed - was
In response to mounting criticism, JIOG met again on July 29 and issued another statement
which said: "We find no reason to change [our July 27] conclusions after the
debriefing of our observers..."
But opposition politicians, particularly Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh,
remain highly critical of both the timing and the content of JIOG's judgment.
JIOG said that the high turnout was "a clear signal to Cambodian leaders and
the international community alike that the Cambodian people are embracing democracy
and are determined to decide their own political future".
It might well have been all that and more. But how, critics say, could JIOG have
known that the election reflected "the will of the Cambodian people" just
over a day later, when the votes had yet to be counted and its observers still to
International television reported JIOG's assessment as fact, without explaining that
many ballots remained uncounted.
JIOG's timetable was arrived at in large part, sources say, because JIOG boss Sven
Linder wanted their assessment out before the joint report of the US observation
teams from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican
The timing left Ranariddh and Rainsy appearing reactive and bad losers. They may
have been and may still be. It also legitimized Hun Sen. Again, he may very soon
properly and deservedly be legitimized.
Cambodian observer group COMFREL - whose dedication and impartiality was praised
during the electoral process - said "we still must wait to see the results of
the overall counting in the PEC [provincial election commissions] and how far the
commune results are respected".
The NDI/IRI statement was generally upbeat and released hurriedly enough to have
caused dissension among their own ranks, but it, too, contained a "caution that
final judgment on the entire election process is premature".
Rainsy remarked: "It does not surprise [me] that the Joint International Observer
Group has already given a positive assessment to the Cambodian elections.
"We knew from the beginning that the international community would not be able
to observe or understand what was happening in the Cambodian electoral process with
such a small presence."
He continued that JIOG couldn't see the intimidation and fraud because their numbers
were "too small, they came too late and they made their assessment too early".
JIOG responded that it stood by the quality of its observations to "draw the
clear conclusions" that it had on July 27.
JIOG went further than calling the elections "free and fair". Linder also
said JIOG believed that everyone "should accept and honor the results of the
election without any attempt to undermine the original outcome".
Ranariddh and Rainsy have indicated they will contest the result through the National
Election Committee and the Constitutional Council.
Linder said July 27 that JIOG hoped the "appeals processes [will be] carried
out satisfactorily". Two days later, Linder said: "JIOG is prepared to
assist the competent Cambodian authorities and institutions with all relevant information
it may have in relation to serious complaints".
What critics say has been lost in the noise is a 17-point document called "Principles
for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia" that foreign diplomats put to CPP President
Chea Sim last Nov 10. The diplomats included the ambassadors of France, the US, the
UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and local UN Special
Representative of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Lakhan Mehrotra.
Critics say most of the 17 conditions have been barely met, and some of the key ones
not at all.
Ranariddh, meanwhile, seized on perhaps the only equivocal word in JIOG's 460-word
"The international community has an impression," he told reporters July
27. "An impression is an impression. It's not definitive."
JIOG's "impression" continued to describe an election "that was free
and fair to an extent that enables it to reflect, in a credible way, the will of
the Cambodian people".
Rainsy satisfied himself with forecasting that the final JIOG report at some later
stage won't be much more different than this, and that it was "unfortunate that
[the voters'] faith is being betrayed".
The Post has reported that Linder's position as EU chief conflicted with his being
chairman of JIOG, because the EU was paying for much of the cost of the polls and
JIOG was judging them.
Then, the EU fired its chief registrar just two days after saying publicly how great
the registration process was, only to have to rehire him a couple of days later.
Additionally, the JIOG quashed its first observers' report just four weeks before
polling day because it was "too political and based too much on human rights".
Linder has publicly criticized the Post for reporting that his observers couldn't
investigate electoral complaints.
However, in Battambang on the night of July 25 a local COMFREL observer rushed into
Battambang's Teo Hotel. With him were two observers from ANFREL, the Asian Network
for Free Elections. They came on motos.
"Please," said one. "This is a serious problem. We need a meeting."
A Post reporter heard his story. Fifty-three polling kits containing approximately
37,000 ballot papers had been opened that night in four separate communes. A UN representative
agreed that the incident, if correct, may have compromised the integrity of the ballots.
At worst, it could have indicated fraud on a massive scale.
The reporter asked the first foreign observer through the foyer - Tom Andrews of
NDI - to hear the COMFREL observer's story. Soon an ad hoc meeting of a dozen or
so NDI, IRI, JIOG and local observers were sitting around a table. For the Post it
was a rare chance to see the JIOG at work in a public place.
The COMFREL observer told his story. He picked up an A4 notepad and threw it three
times across the table to demonstrate how he had seen polling officials treating
the ballot pads.
Andrews politely and repeatedly thanked the man and tried to suggest how observers
could visit the communes the following day.
Then a JIOG observer - a young Norwegian apparently studying the mathematics of conflict
resolution - said: "I'd like to remind everyone that we're just observers here.
We can't go around investigating."