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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Critics say JIOG statement jumps the gun

Critics say JIOG statement jumps the gun

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

the statement.

One JIOG member said the statement's timing - only a day after polls closed - was

"illogical".

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

be debriefed?

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

Institute (IRI).

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

statement: "impression".

"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."

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