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Election briefing

Funcinpec has demanded that the NEC suspend elections in 16 communes where no party

has fielded candidates against the incumbent CPP. At a press conference January 17,

the man in charge of Funcinpec's election committee, Nhek Bun Chhay, said the party

would refuse to accept the result of any - i.e. CPP - candidates winning

unopposed in communes.

The NEC reversed January 15 its original decision forbidding the broadcast of election-related

roundtable discussions. The change of heart follows strong criticism from both the

national and international communities, particularly US Ambassador Kent Weidemann.

The NEC had vetoed at least 15 educational programs prepared by NGOs that explained

the issues and procedures of the February 3 commune elections. Its reasoning was

that some political parties were using the platform to make misleading claims about

their achievements.

The first-ever election debates, however, will remain dropped for what the NEC said

was an absence of any official policy on the subject. The organizers - the Khmer

Institute of Democracy and the National Democratic Institute - were free to

air them on private TV or radio channels, not the public ones.

The election observation body Comfrel has claimed that a misinterpretation of certain

provisions of the commune election law by the NEC's provincial and communal counterparts

was causing problems.

According to provisions 8.3 and 8.15 of the law, the political parties and their

candidates can use public places for their campaigning events with prior permission

from the local administration. A copy of this permission was to be sent to the provincial

or commune election commissions (PECs and CECs) for information purposes only. Private

property could also be used provided the PEC and CEC were informed in advance about

the events.

However, Comfrel said the provisions were being misinterpreted by the PEC and CEC

officials, who had demanded that political parties and their candidates apply for

permission from them before launching their campaign events on both public and private

property.

"As the campaigning begins, its is important that the NEC clarify these provisions

to all concerned," the organization said.

Comfrel also strongly criticized the NEC for its guidelines issued to PECs and CECs

instructing them to monitor voter education materials before granting permission

for their distribution.

Questioning the competence of PEC and CEC officials to do so, Comfrel said in a statement

it had faced "significant difficulties" in Sihanoukville and the remote

northern region of Rattanakiri, where local authorities blocked the distribution

of Comfrel posters showing the negative impact of vote buying.

"[They] demanded that we seek permission for all future distribution of election

education materials," the body said, adding that the Sihanoukville PEC chief

had even rejected distribution of the Khmer version of The Mirror bulletin put out

by the Open Forum that was licensed by the Ministry of Interior. He had demanded

to check the bulletin, which contains a summary of news coverage in the Khmer media,

before he would allow it to be distributed.

A 49-year-old soldier in Anlong Veng district, Oddar Meanchey province had to change

his name in order to register as a commune candidate for the SRP after his commander

reportedly issued orders banning soldiers from associating in any way with the opposition

party.

Sam Rainsy alleged that the chief of Tuol Sala village, Van, warned the man that

once the party was routed in the elections "you will be chased out of the village".

The soldier, Rainsy said, had also not received his salary since September last year.

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