THREE days before polling, independent observers have called on the government
to take steps to prevent post-election retributions that marred the 1998
The US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and the
UN human rights office said the period immediately after polling and the
announcement of results was particularly sensitive. Threats of retribution had
already emerged in several provinces.
"We will be watching very carefully
what degree of intimidation takes place, not just during but after the elections
as well," the IRI president George A. Folsom said January 31.
office will release today its recommendations to prevent retribution from losing
candidates. Human rights organizations have recorded cases of coercion and
intimidation in the pre-election period - in some areas voters were warned of
dire consequences if they voted against the incumbent.
secret ballot process, voters were told the authorities would know who voted for
whom," one observer said. In its report, election monitor Anfrel said such
incidents had continued well into the campaigning period. Some candidates in the
Samlot and Kamrieng districts of Battambang were too scared to
IRI's Folsom said that to call the February 3 elections free
and fair would be completely inappropriate.
"It is too late for that ... [since] violence and intimidation against the
SRP and Funcinpec activists has prevented qualified candidates from running out
of fear," he said. "And media censorship has prevented them from getting their
message across to voters."
The NEC criticized eight news organizations
for what it termed unbalanced reporting. Among the culprits were four Khmer
language dailies joined by one foreign language newspaper, the Voice of America
and Radio Free Asia.
The NEC's media monitoring unit blamed one newspaper
for using an SRP statement but failing to give equal space to other parties.
Others were accused of inciting political tensions. Vicheth refused to specify
which organizations were guilty of the individual charges.
organizations] have violated not only the election code, but also the press
law," he said. "If they have been allowed to continue operating, it is only
because we want to maintain a free press. Had it been Malaysia or Singapore, the
violations would have got them in serious trouble."
That perception was
not shared by election monitor Comfrel, whose report last month highlighted
substantial pro-CPP bias in the media.
"The CPP dominated the political
news and was the only one to be covered by the Phnom Penh-based media [we]
observed, while the government, including the Prime Minister, had the longest
speech opportunities," the report said.
In an apparent reference to human
rights reports highlighting an atmosphere of insecurity, the NEC said the
actions and statements of some of them violated Article 130 of the election law
and would be seen as interference in Cambodia's internal matters and a challenge
to its sovereignty.
However, the NEC's vice-chairman, Kassie Neou,
slammed his own organization. He said polling officials had been appointed at
the last minute and were not properly trained, which left room for manipulation.
"The NEC is allowing them to control the nation's fate," he said,
suggesting NEC members should be appointed independently, rather than by the
government, to ensure its neutrality.
Campaigning brought traffic chaos
to Phnom Penh as thousands of supporters from the three main parties and the
smaller Khmer Improvement Party descended on the city. The 15 day period was
largely peaceful, although complaints of irregularities emerged after ten
Comfrel said the most common complaints involved tearing up rival
party's campaign materials, and conflicts between candidates and local
"These officials could not maintain their neutrality," the
The predominantly peaceful campaigning period was marred when
Funcinpec activist Las Kouk and his wife Math Chaes were shot dead January 28
after being robbed in Pursat.
In another case, a CPP commune council
candidate was targeted January 25 at his home in Banteay Meancheay province.
Ling Panlok's assailants missed him, but killed his 2-year-old son. Local police
did not believe the attempt was politically motivated.
SRP's leading candidate in Bak Sna commune in Kampong Thom, Khor Sok, 57, died
of heart attack January 21.
Om Yentieng, chairman of the Cambodian Human
Rights Committee and special advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said violence
needed to end. He added that continued violence didn't necessarily mean that the
government wanted it to happen.
"The US didn't want the attacks on its
World Trade Centre and couldn't prevent them either, after all," he
Polling is scheduled to begin at 7am on February 3. Staff will count
the votes between 3 and 5pm. No more than 700 voters have been assigned to each
The NEC said initial results from Phnom Penh and surrounding
provinces should arrive around 9 pm on voting day. Final results would be known
February 21, although the NEC hoped the overall picture would be clear by
February 15, "provided there were no troubles".