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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - International observers taking a tougher public stance in days before polling

International observers taking a tougher public stance in days before polling

ELECTION '98 will be given an "amber light" - proceed with caution - by

the lead foreign judges in a pre-polling statement expected to be delivered the evening

of July 24.

The statement from the Joint International Observer's Group (JIOG) will acknowledge

widespread intimidation that has marred the campaign.

But that, JIOG is expected to say, has been balanced by a pluralistic tone to the

campaign that has captured public imagination.

The final foreign call on the electoral process will therefore depend on how the

July 26 polling day and the ballot count go, sources within the group say.

The group will also make a short statement on the night of July 27 and a full report

perhaps a couple of weeks after that.

Critics say that the scope of JIOG's judgement process is too limited.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI)

and human rights workers have argued that JIOG has ignored the fact that the electoral

process was ushered in after a violent coup 12 months ago.

"You could have scripted that," said one foreign critic about JIOG's schedule

of statements. "It's what happens around the world."

The July 24 statement from JIOG will probably include conditions foreign governments

can use when they begin deciding on the legitimacy of a new Cambodian government.

This anticipates the most important, which for an incoming government that will occur

in three to six months, when the international community judges whether the winners

have managed a smooth transition to power.

Stung by criticism that it was effectively papering over cracks in the process, JIOG

seems to have recently developed a more critical consensus toward the election. It

made a public statement of concern July 18.

JIOG spokesman and EU chief observer Sven Linder met with National Election Committee

officials to argue against the thousands of local observers that had suddenly been

accredited.

Linder was supported by the informal "Ambassadors' Group" of France, Thailand,

Indonesia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Japan, which

lobbied Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

They said that observers from JIOG and established local groups COMFREL, COFFEL and

NICFEC must be guaranteed places at each polling station and counting center.

The lobbying appears to have been effective as about half of the more than 70,000

local observers are expected to lose their accreditation before polling day, according

to an NEC spokesman. But how effective the provincial election commissions will be

in confiscating observer passes that have already been issued remains to be seen.

In private, JIOG members deny that they are "apologists" for the process.

A more critical element within JIOG appears to have gained ascendancy, according

to some analysts.

JIOG members have privately praised Linder for the way he has driven recent meetings

and also US Ambassador Kenneth Quinn's more robust stance. Quinn signed the recent

"Ambassadors' Group" letter to Hun Sen.

But while some members are proud of the "unique" consensus within JIOG,

the Post has heard rumblings from some delegations about what JIOG's final statement

is going to look like and how it will be drafted.

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