Editor's note: Glenys Kinnock was the European Union's Special Representative
to the 1998 Cambodian national election. The following is taken from her
previously unpublished report to the EU after the 1998 election, which may have
some relevance for the observation of this weekend's local elections.
The European Union was heavily criticised for "opting in" to this
process [the 1998 elections in Cambodia] but I maintain my original support for
the need for the EU to offer its logistical and technical assistance. It was
certainly a Commission priority and also a priority identified by the UK
The registration process, which accounted for the large
majority of EU assistance, was carried out efficiently and exceeded
expectations. The numbers registered gave a strong indication that there was a
clear willingness on the part of the people to participate in the electoral
It was therefore with deep regret I saw that, over three months
after polling took place, that process remained inconclusive. While the
country's economy was in free fall, the political parties were stuck in
stalemate and outstanding issues of electoral fraud remained unresolved.
After the counting and tabulation processes came to an end and the
majority of international observers had left the country the situation in
Cambodia became increasingly untenable. The National Election Committee (NEC)
failed to respond to the official complaints submitted by the various political
parties and it was discovered that last minute changes to the election formula
were made without consultation, behind closed doors. The opposition parties
asserted that the NEC's failure to address their complaints was unacceptable and
that the changing of the formula was both illegal and unconstitutional.
The significant effect that the change of formula had on the final
results of the ballot made it very difficult for FUNCINPEC or the Sam Rainsy
Party to accept the result. It was, therefore, inevitable that there would be a
long period where the political parties remained entrenched and intransigent,
despite King Sihanouk and others' attempts to mediate. This was detrimental to
both the political and economic stability of Cambodia and brought increased
suffering to her people. It was a situation that could and should have been
avoided. The post-election situation was very difficult for the NEC but it is to
be acknowledged that they mismanaged their response.
After the elections
in Nicaragua, Somoza's analysis of the result could have been paraphrased as:
''You won the election, I won the count". In Cambodia, Hun Sen's post-election
jingo could be: "You won the election, I won the formula."
teetered between democracy and authoritarianism and the international community
showed little interest. Arguably, our observer team withdrew too early and at a
time when there was an ever-increasing need in Cambodia for diplomatic
intervention. The European Union made a great financial and political investment
in Cambodia's elections and the Cambodian people showed once again their will
for democracy by turning out in great numbers to vote. We should have shown a
greater respect for that will by remaining more closely involved and engaged
until a satisfactory conclusion to the process was reached.
committed our 11 million ECU to the elections our remit was clear but our terms
of reference, though rigorously written, were not rigorously observed. It is my
overriding feeling that if the European Union is going to make a positive
contribution to future international elections and the promotion of democracy,
then they need to make a careful analysis of what has happened in Cambodia and
adapt their approach accordingly.
Observation Unit (EUOU)
I attended the STO [Short-Term Observer] briefing sessions and was generally
very impressed by the breadth and quality of information provided. I did however
feel that more information could have been offered on actual observation
techniques and details for completing observation report forms. There could also
have been a greater focus on observation of the count and vote tabulation
processes, these being the areas most prone to fraud and contention.
was made very clear to all observers that their role was observation only and
not monitoring. I can understand the importance of non-intervention but this
can, I think, be carried to extremes. There were a number of occasions on
polling day when there was just a genuine misunderstanding of procedure on the
part of polling station staff. Just a couple of words of information, clarifying
the situation would have been both welcomed and used constructively.
There was, apart from a few notable exceptions, a euphoria amongst the
STOs about the way "the day" went. However, I remained nervous about the context
in which we were working and very conscious of the UN human rights concerns
which had been relentlessly raised.
It is both unusual and wrong not to
bring back Long Term Observers (LTOs) for a full debriefing. I did ask for this
but was told that it was not logistically possible. I had the opportunity of
talking to some of the LTOs during my visits to the provinces. I found their
analysis of the situation on the ground both insightful and helpful. It is my
understanding that it is usual practice to receive debriefing from long term
observers before an opinion can be given.
At a meeting on 'The Future of
Electoral Observation' in Copenhagen on the October 26 and 27, 1998, which I
attended on behalf of the President of the European Parliament, it was said of
the Cambodian elections that "The operation went well but unfortunately the
Domestic observer teams are pivotal to the unbiased analysis of an election.
The people who run the NGOs and who make up the teams are nationals who
understand the system within which they are operating and, what is more,
understand the language. How would a short term observer from, for example, the
UK know whether or not there was a village chief in attendance at a polling
station, whispering death threats to the queuing electorate?
COFFEL had the administrative capacity and know-how to deploy thousands of
observers. In some cases they were the only observers in polling stations in
outlying provinces, as these areas were restricted to international observers
for reasons of security.
COMFREL, COFFEL and NICFEC deployed thousands
of well trained, easily noticeable observers, throughout Cambodia. They had a
strict reporting back procedure and were an extremely reliable source of
information. Despite all this, the EU and other international teams, including
the JIOG [Joint International Observer Group] had no official link with them and
did not take in to account their reports.
Role of the
European Union's Chief Long Term Observer
My role, although defined, was, for whatever reason, neither understood nor
supported, particularly by a number of EU Member States' representatives based
in the region.
I was deeply concerned when I discovered that Mr Linder
(the EU's chief long term observer) had taken on the role of Chair of the JIOG
as I felt that it compromised the EU's position, when giving an analysis of the
As the main donors to the electoral process, the EU
had a powerful voice and a very strong position on the JIOG. This was undermined
by the fact that Mr Linder had to strike obvious compromises as Chair of the
group. Mr Linder's role should have been a purely technical one, instead he
became politicized by his involvement in the JIOG.
International Observers Group (JIOG)
The JIOG apparently started its life as a meeting of ambassadors and then
turned into a meeting of leaders of country delegations. During the week of the
election it met four times and issued three statements.
the idea of such a group is a good one. It provides the international community
with the opportunity to pool its analysis and come out with a strong and fully
However there were many aspects of this group
that called into question both its efficacy and integrity. Conditions of
representation were not clear; countries who had provided extensive funding for
a significant number of observers had the same representation and bargaining
powers as countries like Burma, which, I have since been informed, had deployed
only one STO, who was an embassy official. It caused me real concern that
countries such as Burma, China, Malaysia and Indonesia should be considered
qualified to participate in such an analysis at all.
As the name of the
JIOG group suggests it should be made up of heads of national observer teams,
people without political motivation and with extensive experience of election
monitoring. It is, therefore, inappropriate that ambassadors with clear
political priorities should be representatives of observer groups. They had not
coordinated their STO teams and were consequently not in a position to make a
technical analysis. Certain Member States' diplomats were present and were
clearly influencing their national representative at the table.
Conclusions of the JIOG were not decided by voting but by consensus.
This made for extremely lengthy meetings (another negative signal to the press)
and deeply unsatisfactory decision making methodology. The professional
observers, eg the British, Nordics, Australians and Canadians, were having to
deal with diplomats and politicians who had a clear political agenda of their
The statement of the group was clearly being used as a political
tool and the argument over the loaded vocabulary 'free and fair' became a
sticking point which was ruthlessly targeted by the press.
studies of recent elections have revealed that there has been an understanding
that we should no longer feel that any set vocabulary is appropriate in all
circumstances. However, the European Union seems determined to continue using
this tired and politicised language, even after what occurred in Cambodia last
July. For example, the words 'Free and Fair' were recently used, by the Council,
in the context of the forthcoming elections in Nigeria.
were clearly anxious that the terminology was used as it had already been hailed
as the precursor to Cambodia's entrance into their regional grouping.
had become very clear on the run up to the elections and in the immediate
aftermath, that the use of the words 'free and fair' would be seen as an
endorsement. I made my position on this vocabulary very clear, both in the JIOG
meetings and in my own statement. My avoidance of those words has, in my view,
been extremely important to the EU's position. It has enabled the European Union
to detach itself from the heavy criticism the international community has since
been subject to, for the unsatisfactory and unstable situation that Cambodia is
The JIOG issued: one statement two days before polling day
dealing with the pre-election period; one on the day after polling day while
counting was still going on; and one brief statement three days after polling
day. By separating the pre-election events from polling and counting, human
rights infringements were effectively ignored in what is generally recognised as
the most important statement issued. Information available to the JIOG the day
after polling day was very limited as many STOs had still not returned from the
field and none had yet been debriefed. These simple facts prove that both the
timing and the content of the JIOG statement were questionable. They did not
rely on solid technical information as they were made before that information
could be properly collated.
It is my understanding that the UN have
investigated their role in the Cambodian elections and have decided never to
replicate what happened in July 1998.
The European Union needs to accept that democracy is not synonymous with
holding elections. It is a peaceful and essential way of resolving how to
allocate power and authority.
In Cambodia we took a snapshot of a couple
of days with a backdrop which was made up of outside pressure to permit that
country to join ASEAN, gain a UN seat and join a partnership with the EU. We
should learn from what occurred in Cambodia, and from other elections in which
we have been engaged, and avoid being perceived by the opposition (however
wrongly) as legitimising and endorsing a deeply flawed process.