CONSULTANTS working with the Interior Ministry have urged the government to delay
next year's commune or Khum elections and have suggested the poll be held in conjunction
with national elections in 1998.
The recommendation - made by American, Canadian and Australian election experts funded
by their respective governments to work with Cambodian officials- comes amid concern
that planning and the building of institutional capacity for both the local and national
ballots is "way behind" schedule.
At press time, the Royal Government had yet to officially respond to the recommendation
- one of a number of suggestions resulting from a review of draft commune election
legislation being prepared by a committee headed by co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng.
But the option has already received some independent support with one highly placed
source suggesting that holding both ballots together would minimise election related
"An 'unacceptable' result in the commune elections could result in disruption
to the subsequent national election," the source said.
The consultant's report justified the postponement of communal elections for several
reasons including cost, the lack of progress in building an institutional and legislative
framework within which the election could be held, administrative difficulties and
the likelihood that poor weather may hamper logistics.
Among the concerns raised about the draft Khum electoral legislation were the cost
of poll administration which under current plans would see a polling station for
every 500 people, the lack of established electoral boundaries, and the potential
for bodies charged with supervising the election to favour those who already enjoy
The consultants recommendations also urge the scrapping of four electoral commissions
to be set up under the existing draft law, and their replacement with a single National
Election Commission. This would be responsible for both local and national elections
and would be removed from the direct control of the co-Ministers of Interior and,
at the commune level, local officials.
Instead, the single new body would comprise representatives of the co- Ministers,
one NGO representative, international advisors and representatives of the four parties
currently holding seats in the National Assembly. Parties without members of parliament
will not be represented but the report urged the Commission's workings be transparent
with the right of public access to all decisions enshrined in legislation.
Sources privy to the consultant's recommendations also said they are suggesting the
government hire Cambodians previously employed by Untac to work in the new electoral
commission and consider the use of voting machines as an alternative to ballot boxes.
One foreign diplomat suggested the imperative for efficient and honest elections
over rode questions of timing. "I'm confident the elections will go ahead, even
if they are postponed," he said.
"Both major parties believe they can win a free and fair election and [as a
result] both believe it is in their interest to conduct an election which provides
a legitimate result.
"I'm confident Cambodians can achieve free and fair elections with international
help," he said, referring to both commune and national elections.
However, sources claimed there are significant differences between the two ruling
parties in terms of the level of international help each is seeking.
In a two hour meeting with Alvaro De Soto, the UN's Assistant Secretary General for
Political Affairs, 2nd PM and Cambodian People's Party Vice President Hun Sen reportedly
reaffirmed his commitment to elections run by Cambodians - and said he would limit
the role of the international community to providing technical assistance and only
But First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh's Chief of Cabinet, Ly Thuch, said: "Democracy
is very young in Cambodia... we want the elections to be free and fair and democratic...to
be frank we must have international observers...we need international observers...and
we expect the international community to provide [them]."
Khmer Nation Party leader Sam Rainsy went further: "[The elections] can not
be the same as 1993, but we do need a lot of help...Cambodia does not have the ability
to run a free and fair election...we have the ability to cheat, to produce a travesty
of an election...," he said.
According to Rainsy, the differences also extend to such things as a basic clash
of opinion on the type of electoral system to use in the national election.
The King has reportedly proposed a mixed system of both proportional and majority
representation, while the co-Prime Ministers are said to prefer a straightforward
first-past-the post system.
However, according to Rainsy, the Prime Ministers are yet to agree on exactly what
form of majority system should be adopted.
"Second Prime Minister Hun Sen wants a simple majority system with only one
round of voting while Prince Ranariddh wants a majority system with two rounds of
voting," Rainsy said.
A two round ballot - where the two front running candidates from the first round
compete in a second round of voting in order to establish an absolute majority -
is seen by experts as more representative of voters wishes. However, it has the disadvantages
of complexity and cost.
One source who has been intimately involved with election preparations said these
basic differences of opinion and a lack of communication appeared to provide huge
obstacles for cooperation and had slowed preparations.
"There is a moral if not a legal obligation for all of the partners in the Paris
Peace Accords to take a more proactive role in resolving differences between the
two[major] parties," he said.
However, Alvaro De Soto - who wound up a visit to Cambodia September 3 - said he
had faith in Cambodia's ability to meet the challenge it faced and played down divisions
within the government.
"There is a clear determination on the part of Cambodian authorities...to conduct
this exercise in the consolidation of democracy in the spirit of the Cambodian Constitution...,"
De Soto said.
"It is clear to us that there is a willingness to consider the advice from a
variety of experts...and this advice is being given in accordance with the wish of
Cambodians that they should be the ones that are in charge of these elections."
He conceded, however, that much work needed to be done in building legislative and
institutional structures to support free and fair elections - adding there had been
no further specific requests from the government to the UN other than one earlier
this year seeking its cooperation in coordinating international "technical"
"[But] let me say, based on our experience with electoral processes at the United
Nations, [preparations for] elections are always behind schedule...rarely do they
work like clockwork, so I am neither alarmed nor dismayed... its still manageable.
"There is a certain amount of concern...but we are not tearing our hair out.
And, as I said earlier, it is primarily the responsibility of the Cambodians - we
can only point out what their needs are according to our experience.