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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Linder leaves; democracy the winner

Linder leaves; democracy the winner

Linder leaves; democracy the winner

Sven Linder was Chief

Observer for the European Union's election unit and

chairman of the Joint International Observer Group. The

JIOG disbanded in August; some EU observers remained

working until the end of September. Linder spoke to Beth

Moorthy and Matthew Grainger Sept 30, and is scheduled to

give a final statement on Oct 2 before leaving Cambodia.

Post: What have you been doing since the beginning of

August? What exactly have your observers been targeting?

Sven Linder: I have been

following the post-electoral process ... following

exactly the same procedures as I followed before, to

follow the process and keep mum while doing that until

the process is finished, and then comment on it... If you

look at the reconciliation period, the complaint period,

[EU observers] have been following this, they have

visited the courts, the NEC, the Constitutional Council

quite a number of times... We have tried to follow [the

process] as best we can, and we got a few demonstrations

for good measure!

Post: Do you actually consider

the electoral process now finished?

Linder: Yes, as far as my terms

of reference [which] are to follow the electoral process

until the installation of the successful candidates...

Post: So you don't consider the

formation of a government to be part of candidates being

installed?

Linder: No, my terms of

reference are exactly what I told you. This is not for me

to decide, these are the terms of reference given me by

the EU; I follow those.

Post: How do you think the NEC

performed in the post-electoral [period]?

Linder: I'm going to comment on

that in my [Oct 2] statement... but let me put it this

way, I think that the standards were higher in the

pre-electoral phase and the polling and counting day

phases than in the post-electoral phase.

Post: And presumably the same

sort of comment would apply to the Constitutional Council

as well?

Linder: It had a very minor role

to play in the pre-electoral process ... I'm going to

comment on the Council as well on Friday.

Post: In JIOG statements and

things you have said in the past the idea is always that

the final conclusions of international observers would

come only after complaints were resolved satisfactorily.

Have they been?

Linder: I have said that the

final conclusions would come at the end of the electoral

process... I can't speak on behalf of the JIOG because it

doesn't exist, it was dissolved in the beginning of

August when the UNEAS [United Nations Electoral

Assistance Secretariat] office was closed. I can at this

stage only speak as the ex-chair of the JIOG... and as EU

Chief Observer.

Post: But the EU has also said

they'd like to see complaints resolved satisfactorily.

Linder: We have said we would

like everything to be satisfactory, and on Friday I will

comment on that basis

Post: But our understanding was

that it would be more than that, that you actually

wouldn't make a final judgment until the process was

finished. Now, to your mind, the process is finished?

Linder: Yes. [But] I mean, the

political process is of course not finished... the

political process can go on for a long time. But...

within my terms of reference, the electoral process is

finished. Another thing is, I know that opposition

parties are still making points on various electoral

issues but that is... part of the political process.

Within my terms of reference, the electoral process was

finished when the National Assembly was opened.

Post: So, according to your

terms of reference, technical problems become political

problems after Siem Reap?

Linder: I'll put it this way,

the technical problems or complaints are now part of the

political process.

Post: But they always have been,

haven't they?

Linder: Yes, but I don't know

what you are aiming at. I'm telling you my mandate is

finished according to my terms of reference... would you

like me to stay on forever?

Post: [EU Special

Representative] Glenys Kinnock said July 29

"...final definitive positions on the election

process must be taken only after the current serious

concerns have been addressed and resolved."So when

she says `final definitive positions' on the election

process does that not include you?

Linder: I have my terms of

reference and I stand by them. Glenys Kinnock had her

terms of reference and she stands by them.

Post: They're different?

Linder: But I'm not answering

for Glenys Kinnock, I'm answering for me.

Post: So her statement doesn't

necessarily apply to what you're doing.

Linder: I'm not saying there's

no difference, I'm only saying she made her statement as

Special Representative and I'm making my statement as

Chief Observer.

Post: Would it be fair to say

that you consider the elections as a whole as a step

forward towards democracy?

Linder: Yes

Post: What about post-voting:

the NEC's role, the Constitutional Council's role,

demonstrations, the travel ban is [all this] still a step

forward?

Linder: I have said several

times that... the development of democracy is a process,

and I consider the quality of the 1998 elections to be

higher than the quality of the 1993 elections. And in

terms of, for example, violence, the level of violence

was much higher five years ago... This is something that

some journalists, some critics fail to understand... look

at democracy as a process. I have never said 1998

elections were absolutely perfect... but they are in my

opinion, and I remain convinced, a step forward in

Cambodia's democratic development.

Post: Did you waver in that

conviction after the JIOG's July 27 and 29 statements and

in the face of more recent events the complaints, the way

they were handled, the demonstrations?

Linder: Not in the slightest.

And that's one point I would really like to make... there

has been a lot of criticism saying that the JIOG was

premature in its statement. [At the time of the Jul 27

statement,] we had access to the radio reports from both

days by our observer teams deployed all over the

country... the most important answer was the overall

assessment of the counting process... We had, when we

came to that conclusion, 95% [of the radio reports

assessing the counting process as] `good' or `very good'.

It was not... that we were sitting there off the cuff,

saying, `Oh, this looks fine.' According to established

international election observation techniques, we had a

very firm basis to stand on and I can tell you had we had

something different, say 50/50, we wouldn't have

hesitated to put the whole process on hold... But you can

be absolutely sure that if we'd waited until preliminary

results were known, we would have been accused by the

press [and] opposition parties of being partial. I stand

by my conclusions and I stand by the timing.

Post: On July 27 you said:

"... I can only say that the international observer

community has passed these elections." Do you think

that might have been a prematurely broad statement for

the elections as a whole

Linder: There have been problems

in the post-electoral process, no doubt about that. But

the main question to be answered is, have these problems

in any important way influenced the result of the votes

on polling and counting day? And to my mind, in my

opinion, the answer to that is no. These elections have

not been perfect off-the-shelf western-standard

elections, that was not to be expected. But the process

has been of the standard to which it makes it still

possible to say that they have been free and fair to an

extent which allows it to reflect the will of the people

in a credible way... I am convinced that can still stand

as an overall assessment of these elections with its

problems at different times.

Post: What about another

observer group, NDI, saying that polling day and counting

day were an aberration compared to every other day before

and since?

Linder: I would not call the day

when the voters expressed their will, which is the core

of any election, an aberration... The first question is,

were they able to express their will, and our conclusion

is that they were able to, to a satisfactory extent. The

next question is, has anything happened after they cast

their vote that gives reason to believe that the election

had been rigged or tampered, to an extent that would have

changed the will expressed by the people in an important

way? And there is my conclusion that that has not been

the case and therefore I cannot call those two days an

aberration.

Post: There was a lot of

controversy around tampering with ballot bags, and that

wouldn't have anything to do with what your people saw on

polling and counting days.

Linder: No doubt there were

single incidents where some tampering could have taken

place, but our observers saw nothing that implied

tampering [took] place to an extent that it would have

influenced the election... There were places where our

observers gave very low marks for the bags, but...

because I am not the Constitutional Council, I am not the

NEC, I am here to observe the whole process... My task

has been to look at all the complaints, give an overall

assessment has what has happened here changed the main

thrust, the main direction of the polls? I can only say

we have found nothing of that kind.

Post: What about the context of

the elections, surely you have to take into context that

there was a coup the year before, the opposition had been

smashed, the CPP had free reign for a year, mass

intimidation?

Linder: When I was first asked

in March if I was prepared to do this job, my first

reaction was: "My God, how could they ever be able

to hold elections in that country on the 26th of July?

... But day by day I was more pleasantly surprised; one

by one the pieces of that jigsaw puzzle fell into

place... When I look at all the important events that

took place in 1997 and 1998, I think it is remarkable

that elections, of course not of perfect quality but of

this quality, could be arranged and could take place...

On polling day I was impressed, even moved, by the

atmosphere... everything was calm and quiet and solemn,

and the last voter [I observed]... was an old man

probably over 80 and I thought when I saw him, he has

been through a lot in his life... I was convinced that

those were not people flogged to come to the polls,

intimidated to come to the polls, they came of their own

free will. That is why I am optimistic, that Cambodians

realize that democracy is their right.

Post: I'll put it to you that

[JIOG's statement on the 27th] actually promoted the sort

of conflict we're seeing now... it backed whoever the

opposition was going to be into a corner, their

complaints wouldn't have been recognized because you'd

already said [the election] was fine.

Linder: We didn't say the whole

electoral process was fine, we said that what we'd seen

on polling and counting day was fine. And what is the

point of having international observers if they don't

tell publicly what they see?

Post: But [the statement] was

widely reported and understood as an endorsement [of the

entire process] and I didn't see a statement coming out

[from the JIOG] to clarify that. Cambodian politicians

and [Cambodian] people believed it.

Linder: What we said was so

crystal clear that it could not be misunderstood... if we

had waited, say, a few days then you could really talk

about putting some parties into a corner because then we

would have known the preliminary results and then we

would have had a flood of accusations... there is no way

you could avoid that. The timing as I see it was

absolutely right.

Post: Wasn't there a way to say

yes, polling and counting were okay, but we'll see about

the next step, and the next?

Linder: We made one statement,

covering both days, after the report from those days were

in.

Post: How could the Cambodian

people look at this statement in any other way than as a

ringing endorsement of what had been done?

Linder: I don't know what you're

aiming at. We were expected and of course it was not only

natural but necessary to make a statement of what we saw

on polling and counting day. What is your point? I mean,

you don't form an international electoral observation

operation just to go to a country and sit there...

following normal international observation standards, we

issued a statement telling the world what we had seen. It

was very precisely worded. What else could we have done?

Post: When is the final [JIOG]

report going to be released, since [the draft] is dated

August 6?

Linder: That is up to the United

Nations in New York.

Post: Why is it taking so long?

Linder: We did exactly what was

our duty. We made a report and sent it to the United

Nations. I have no decision-making power over what the

United Nations would elect. And now, ladies and gentlemen

time is up!

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