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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Intimidation a blight on registration

Intimidation a blight on registration

THE National Election Committee (NEC) has been left with more complaints than it

says it can handle in the wind-up of a voter registration process tainted by intimidation.

As the Post went to press, word emerged of two killings June 14 which "appear

to be political after initial investigation", according to one human rights


A Funcinpec activist in Prey Veng province was reportedly "dragged out of his

house and executed by a group of armed men", Funcinpec said. In the second killing,

the wife of another Funcinpec activist living nearby was shot by armed men as she

was weaving under her house, the party said.

The National Election Committee - which is in charge of investigating complaints

and judging the fairness of the electoral process - had "far too many complaints

for its legal team to handle effectively," said NEC member Tip Jahnvibol.

"We are investigating every one, but speed is a problem because of the lack

of resources," Jahnvibol said.

Many local-level complaints were being sent by political parties straight to the

NEC - not through pre-established lines of commune and provincial commissions, and

only then to the NEC and up to the Constitutional Council if necessary.

Opposition party president Rainsy explained that his supporters had more faith in

their own party officials than they do in the CPP-dominated local electoral commissions,

so they file complaints to his party.

Most of the complaints came from heavily-populated areas such as Phnom Penh, Kampong

Cham, Battambang and Kandal, election officials said.

NEC vice-chairman Kassie Neou said that the NEC was sending criminal complaints to

the Interior Ministry, with appropriate recommendations, because there is no way

the NEC could do the ministry's job.

One commune commission official, however, was sacked from his job upon the NEC's

recommendation. "He shot a pistol in front of the [Takeo] CEC to scare people.

Since he walked out of an office and fired the pistol, it means he had a gun inside.

That is a violation," Neou said.

While the "NEC appears to be receptive to complaints and is willing to consider

improvements to the registration process - and the presence of independent Cambodian

monitors has enhanced transparency - massive problems remain on a small and large-scale

level", the Washington-based National Democratic Institute summarized in a June

12 report.

One diplomatic source said: "If you take the sort of political context in which

the elections are being held - serious political violence less than a year ago and

a lack of pluralistic activity for several months, intimidating recruitment practices,

lack of voter education, the localized level at which votes are being counted...

this may help the electorate feel they can only vote one way because the voting trends

of their village will be known."

The provision allowing citizens to register without ID, as long as two witnesses

could vouch for them, also appears to have been abused. "If they want to register

twice, they use one name in this center and go to another with a new name,"

shrugged An Vorit, who was registering voters in Battambang.

Some centers were registering CPP cell members with neither ID nor witnesses, observers

said. They presented voucher forms - seen by the Post - with the seal of local CPP

commune officials listing the cell number, address, age, and nationality of registrants.

Other people, however, were refused for being "too short to be old enough to

vote" or "insane".

Sam Rainsy has called for a June 21 rally for those incorrectly excluded from the

process, despite a government ban on demonstrations.

Rainsy also complained that a young Kampong Cham man who lived in a house where Rainsy

had just opened a party office was arrested "at lightning speed" and sentenced

to one year in prison for possession of a weapon that was dissembled under his bed.

The trial had finished before a Phnom Penh-based defense lawyer arrived.

Lim Eov Pheng, 22, was arrested after his housemates claim-ed the Sam Rainsy Party

sign over the house had been shot at. Police investigating the shooting arrested

Pheng despite his and others' assertions that the gun belonged to a drunk CPP soldier,

a rights workers said.

Rainsy said: "It is a clear act of intimidation: Don't put up a Sam Rainsy party


Meanwhile, King Norodom Sihanouk called on Cambodians to disregard intimidation and

vote with their conscience in a June 17 statement released by the Royal palace.

But one Western electoral observer with years of experience in Cambodia was not convinced

voters would heed the King's call.

"The conventional wisdom is that Cambodians were intimidated in 1993 and they

still voted their conscience," he said. "But did they? How would they have

voted if there was no intimidation, what would the real results have been? A lot

of people will not vote their conscience. There is no way to know. I think Cambodians

demonstrated independence and courage last time, but we just don't know. Why the

hell should they have to put up with this?"

Some foreign observers are equivocal about the fairness of the registration process.

"There is information, but there is little that one can say about it systematically

being good or bad.

"It is absolutely unknown who has been screened out [of the registration process]

in the provinces."

Several critics say the international community does not have enough observers on

the ground to adequately keep tabs on the situation.

In some selected complaints given to the Post:

- People in Wat Ang village, Kampot, were reportedly told in late May they would

be expelled from their homes if they didn't vote for the CPP, according to one rights

group. Opposition parties have cited similar tactics elsewhere.

- Some voters were asked to swear: "After I become a member of the CPP I promise

to support and comply with CPP party policy until the end of my life," according

to a party application form being used in the thumb-printing recruitment drive. Rights

officials say the practice aims to intimidate; Hun Sen claims it is to give gifts

to the party faithful.

- In Kraingyov voters had their registration cards "collected" in late

May by cell leaders who said they would be returned on election day, villagers told

observers. Cambodian National Sustaining Party president Pen Sovann claimed that

CPP officials were pretending to enter the registration numbers into a computer they

said they would use to verify their votes.

- Pen Sovann's party complained that people in the Sihanoukville villages of O Tapang

and Beung Trabek were warned on May 27 that their land would be confiscated if people

attended the party's office opening, while villagers in Steung Keo commune of Kampot

were reportedly warned that anyone who joins a party other than the CPP will not

be able to vote.

- Attempts by Reastr Niyum, the BLP and the CPP to manipulate the registration process

by transporting prospective voters a "considerable distance".

- Ung Huot's Reastr Niyum party was accused of transporting prospective voters from

Phnom Penh to the slimly-populated Anlong Thout area in Krokol district of Pursat

on May 20.

- "The CPP is attacking. They don't want us to put up our signs," Funcinpec

MP Ahmed Yahya said, adding that his party has only been allowed to put up one sign

in Kratie town. Others have reported armed attacks on opposition of party signs or

the issuance provincial documents saying signs cannot be put up.



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