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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Free and fair say some; others denounce a parody

Free and fair say some; others denounce a parody

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'Don't accuse me of loving power - the people gave it to me,' Hun Sen thunders on July 29.

In the final analysis, will the 2003 election be declared free and fair, or "free

and fair enough", as Prime Minister Hun Sen described last year's local elections?

Several monitors have offered a qualified yes to "free and fair", citing

the lack of bloodshed, widespread calm, and order in the voting process. Others insist

the election was a parody of the democratic process marred by intimidation, violence

and dirty dealing.

Officials from both the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Funcinpec have already denounced

the results as "unfair and irregular", and vowed to seek recounts and revoting

for several precincts.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP), while appearing to remain above the fray, released

preliminary election results of its own and insisted any new government would proceed

with Hun Sen at the helm.

As the political process works itself out, few would deny that major improvements

were evident. Most visibly, the number of killings and intimidation declined again

from earlier elections.

The UN reported 13 potentially politically-related murders during this election cycle,

while human rights groups noted a further 23 cases of serious intimidation. That

contrasts with at least 17 killings in the run-up to the commune elections, more

than 30 in 1998, and hundreds during the 1993 election period.

The general feeling among many observers and human rights groups was that intimidation

is still pervasive, but "more subtle and sophisticated". The International

Republican Institute (IRI) said investigations for politically motivated crimes "were

rare ... and almost [none] resulted in credible prosecutions".

Restrictions on media access were also eased. All 22 parties enjoyed limited access

to state television, with Funcinpec and SRP receiving more coverage than ever before.

The National Election Committee (NEC) was widely hailed as being "more inclusive

and transparent", but local electoral bodies were branded as overwhelmingly

partisan with about 80 percent of officials linked to the CPP.

ANFREL reported that vote-buying was "very prevalent by all three major parties"

and on the increase. Traditional 'gifts' such as cash and rice were widely distributed,

along with new incentives such as loans, lotteries and even coupons redeemable upon

specific election results.

The European Union also criticized the influence of village chiefs on the voting

process. The National Democratic Institute reported local officials frequently acted

as extensions of the CPP.

Ultimately it is the perceptions of Cambodians themselves that will matter most.

Encouragingly, a recent Asia Foundation survey reported that four out of five say

they feel free to express their political opinions. However, two-thirds of the electorate

still doubt their vote makes any difference whatsoever.

Preliminary assessments

European Union, with 124 observers in all 24 provinces.

Free and fair? Almost, but will not commit to language deemed "too narrow".

Quote: "Elections were well conducted, but [there is] still some way to

go to full democracy."

Praised: very few and minor irregularities, good technical preparation, improved

access to media, enhanced transparency of process.

Criticized: alleged political killings, distribution of vote incentives, pressure

from village chiefs. Also NEC directives not fully enforced, and concerns about anti-Vietnamese

rhetoric.

Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), with

65 observers in 20 provinces.

Free and fair? No.

Quote: "The election was generally peaceful, but [there were] serious

concerns that prevent ANFREL from concluding the election was free and fair."

Praised: the peaceful atmosphere, exercising of civil rights, high integrity

of most election officials, increased level of political campaigning, voters' knowledge

of election process.

Criticized: widespread intimidation, pervasive vote-buying, misinformation

from election officials, voter registration failures, confiscation of voting cards,

intimidation of ethnic Vietnamese, lack of ballot secrecy or security.

Comfrel and Nicfec, with 20,089 observers in all 24 provinces.

Free and fair? Possibly, will announce on August 5.

Quote: "This election day, we observed no serious incidents, but that

does not mean it was an acceptable election."

Praised: the reduction of political killings and serious intimidation, more

involvement by civil society, dynamic and active election campaigns.

Criticized: intimidation, which was subtle and sophisticated; widespread discrimination

to pressure voters; partisan electoral bodies; regulations not enforced; inadequate

complaint process; premature campaigning by all parties; disproportionate media coverage

of government.

International Republican Institute (IRI), with 61 observers in 19 provinces.

Free and fair? No, did not meet international standards.

Quote: "This election cycle was an improvement, but still fell short

of recognized international standards."

Praised: NEC operated with improved transparency; open debates and active

campaigning; peaceful and orderly vote; few technical problems with counting and

voting.

Criticized: serious deficiencies in voter registration; political violence

and widespread intimidation from the ruling party; pressure on electorate to vote

CPP; climate of impunity; weak enforcement of election law; biased media coverage

of government; interference by village chiefs; vote-counting irregularities.

Provisional results

Province/Municipality

Seats

CPP

FUN

SRP

Banteay Meanchey

6

4 (3)

1 (2)

1 (1)

Battambang

8

5 (3)

1 (3)

2 (2)

Kampong Cham

18

8 (7)

5 (8)

5 (3)

Kampong Chhnang

4

3 (3)

1 (1)

- (-)

Kampong Speu

6

4 (4)

1 (2)

1 (-)

Kampong Thom

6

3 (4)

1 (2)

2 (-)

Kampot

6

3 (4)

2 (2)

1 (-)

Kandal

11

5 (4)

3 (5)

3 (2)

Kep

1

1 (1)

- (-)

- (-)

Koh Kong

1

1 (1)

- (-)

- (-)

Kratie

3

2 (1)

1 (2)

- (-)

Mondolkiri

1

1 (1)

- (-)

- (-)

Oddar Meanchey

1 (-)

1 (-)

- (-)

- (-)

Pailin

1

1 (-)

- (-)

- (1)

Phnom Penh

12

4 (4)

2 (4)

6 (4)

Preah Vihear

1

1 (1)

- (-)

- (-)

Prey Veng

11

6 (7)

3 (4)

2 (-)

Pursat

4

3 (2)

1 (2)

- (-)

Ratanakkiri

1

1 (1)

- (-)

- (-)

Siem Reap

6

4 (3)

1 (2)

1 (1)

Sihanoukville

1

1 (1)

- (-)

- (-)

Stung Treng

1

1 (1)

- (-)

- (-)

Svay Rieng

5

3 (4)

1 (1)

1 (-)

Takeo

8

5 (4)

2 (3)

1 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

Total

123 (122)

71 (64)

26 (43)

26 (15)

Small figures in parentheses are the 1998 results.

Oddar Meanchey was created after the 1998 election.

Source: Phnom Penh Post archives and COMFREL, July 31, 2003.

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