Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has rebuked the European Union over two low-profile election experts it sent to monitor July’s elections, claiming their presence had undermined Cambodian democracy.
In a letter sent on Tuesday to Ugu Astuto, the EU’s top diplomat for South and Southeast Asia, Rainsy claimed that the experts remained in the country and were working with the National Election Committee.
EU Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain clarified yesterday, however, that Rainsy had his facts wrong and that the pair had left on August 9.
Rainsy admitted yesterday that he might have “misunderstood” the facts relayed to him by the EU, but maintained he was still “happy” to have sent the strongly worded letter.
“I am happy to write this letter, even if those two experts have already left, because it was a mistake in the first place to send the two experts, and secondly, I don’t want to run the risk of seeing the EU send any more experts,” he said.
In the letter, Rainsy says the government has never lacked “any sort of technical assistance, advice or recommendation” for electoral reform, but rather lacked the political will to implement such recommendations.
Following the 2008 election, an official EU observation mission offered a number of recommendations for reform, none of which appear to have been implemented by the government.
“Do you think the two European technical experts working now with the NEC would succeed in making the Cambodian authorities change their mind and implement any recommendation to ensure credible elections?” Rainsy writes.
“Actually those two European technical experts are rendering a bad service to democracy in Cambodia because they are simply used by the authoritarian Cambodian regime to endorse the NEC and its continuous plan to manipulate elections.”
EU Ambassador Cautain said the experts had arrived in mid-July and were “looking at the overall election process”. He reiterated that no formal EU observation mission had been deployed – as announced before the election – and that no report would be issued.
NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha confirmed that the EU experts had met with the NEC to offer technical support on improving the elections.
Separately, Rainsy claimed yesterday in a speech to about 1,000 party members in Prey Veng that the government could not afford the recently approved draft budget and called on foreign donors to cut off their “lifelines” to the government.
“The Cambodian People’s Party is sick, is nearly dying and is living on a lifeline. We call on the international community to cut this lifeline so the [CPP] will die soon,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government had strong foreign support and called the remarks “allegations told by a liar”.
“We have reduced the gap between rich and poor and achieved good progress in development,” he said.