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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - One-horse race in 14 communes

One-horse race in 14 communes

At least 14 communes in five provinces might go into the February, 2002 elections

with only one party in the fray, since neither the opposition nor CPP ally Funcinpec

has fielded any candidates in those communes.

Six political parties have now come together to press the National Election Committee

(NEC) to reopen candidate registration, saying they missed the October deadline due

to factors from floods to political threats and intimidation of their candidates.

Funcinpec is yet to decide whether to formally join in with the demand.

The communes, located in the remote provinces of Rattanakiri, Mondolkiri, Pursat,

Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey are also home to some of the 120 communes where the

main opposition party, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) has failed to field any candidates.

Funcinpec is absent in 16 of them.

Funcinpec's election committee chairman, May Sam Oeun, told the Post November 8 that

his party had decided to leave the matter in the hands of the local commune election

commissions (CECs) and their national counterpart to investigate and verify the 16

complaints of irregularities and intimidation of its candidates in Battambang and

Oddar Meanchey provinces. He said Funcinpec was awaiting a decision.

"Our party leader, Prince Ranariddh, will decide whether we should also formally

place our demand with the NEC [for reopening of candidate registration]," he

said. The CEC is holding a hearing on Funcinpec's complaints November 14.

Ou Bun Long, the SRP senator and in charge of its election committee, also maintained

his party had routinely complained to the NEC about frequent instances of intimidation

and threats against his candidates, including in Battambang where one of its candidates

died November 6 after being brutally beaten by five people.

Though commune election law does not provide for intervention in a situation where

only one party fields its candidates, the opposition and smaller parties like the

Khmer Democratic Party, along with the election monitoring organizations, said holding

polls in these communes would be against the principals of pluralist democracy.

"Considering that Funcinpec and the SRP have repeatedly complained of threats

and intimidation that prevented them from registering their candidates, denying them

a chance [in those communes] would be unfair," said Panha Koul of Comfrel, an

election monitoring NGO.

The NEC chairman of media sub-committee, Prom Nhean Vicheth, however said the electoral

body was still in the process of analyzing the detailed candidate lists from all

1,621 communes to verify the political parties' claims and could take a stand on

the issue only once the situation became clear.

However, not all felt the NEC needed to intervene in the case. Eric Kessler, director

of the National Democratic Institute said that the NEC was not obliged to re-open

registration merely because other political parties could not find candidates in

time. After all, he said, the dates for candidate registration were announced several

months ago and the parties had had enough time to get their act together.

The parties had so far failed to provide credible evidence of threats and intimidation

that prevented them from registering their candidates, he said.

Though some parties were now speculating that the seats in those communes would be

handed over to CPP candidates on a platter without going through the process of printing

ballot papers that bears only one name, Kessler said the public must be given a choice

to accept or reject the candidates even from the limited choice by providing an extra

column.

He said: "Elections are not about just choosing a winner, but are meant to give

the people a voice. The best solution to a situation [like this] could be to print

a ballot paper for those communes and add one more choice to it that says "none

of the above."

"That way, people would get to have a clear say [in the polls] and the ruling

party would not be able to claim that they enjoy 100 percent support in those communes."

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