Election monitoring NGOs, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, and smaller political
parties have expressed fears that the lead-up to next year's general election will
see increased violence, killings and vote-buying.
Hang Dara, leader of the newly formed Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party, said,
"pre-election intimidation has already begun in eight provinces".
On August 7, he said, four members of his party were threatened by the commune chief
of the ruling Cambodian People's Party in Peam Ro commune, Prey Veng province. He
said photos for party supporter ID cards were confiscated and the four were warned
to cease political activities.
Phi Thach, chief of cabinet at the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, claimed that the
killing of a party member in Takeo province last month was "the usual intimidation
from the ruling party" and meant to show opposition members their lives were
"As we are on the verge of an election, this killing is a significant message
to the members of the SRP," he said.
The UN's human rights office confirmed it had recently received reports of crimes
including killings involving party activists, and was investigating. Spokesperson
Francesca Marotta said the UN was still following up unresolved cases from the commune
"We will also continue to monitor reports of serious election-related or potentially
election-related human rights violations in the run-up to the next election,"
Kek Galabru, president of election monitor NICFEC, said her organization was "monitoring
carefully." She said election-related violence had started one year before the
1998 national elections, and "very early" in the lead-up to the commune
elections held earlier this year.
The UN human rights office noted 17 killings or suspicious deaths in the thirteen
months preceding the February 2002 commune elections. It also recorded more than
300 cases of human rights violations between June 2001 and election day that were
"likely to be related to the election process".
"Based on past experiences from the 1992-93, 1998 and the 2002 elections we
are really afraid we are going to have more violence, intimidation and killings,"
Galabru said. "Right now the [election] law is not finalized - after the National
Assembly adopts the law it will be enforced and the process of the election will
The draft amendments to the election law, which is before the National Assembly,
would give the Ministry of Interior the authority to select a new five member National
Election Committee (NEC). Many observers are concerned this may affect public perception
of the NEC's independence.
Galabru said there would be problems if people lacked trust in the reformed NEC.
"For the elections to be seen as free and fair by the Cambodian people, the
NEC needs to be independent," she said.
Election observers all expected that the practice of vote-buying, which is illegal
under the election laws governing the commune elections and the 1998 general election,
would increase significantly before next year's national ballot. A NICFEC report
on the commune elections noted evidence of illegal vote-buying by the three major
Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay predicted the general election would be characterized
"It will not reflect the wish and will of the people because money will affect
them," he said. "The CPP learned quite well that vote buying is very successful.
It costs just a bag of rice and 1,000 riel."
Galabru agreed that vote-buying had occurred in the last two elections and would
be a factor.
"I'm afraid there is no financial equality between the parties. Some have a
lot of financial resources so it is not equal," she said. "Unequal access
to the media is also a concern."
Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said "the degree
of violence" had not yet started, but his organization was concerned about limitations
to freedom of expression.
"Recently we observed the government has tried to control the print media, especially
the opposition newspapers," he said.
Several human rights workers expressed concern the government might use the excuse
of the US-based Kampuchea Krom National Liberation Front, which calls for the "liberation"
of southern Vietnam, to crack down on political opponents.