The 'Eye of Justice' watches the vote counting on July 28.
Eventually, everyone agreed the meeting took place. And there was even consensus
that what was written in notes taken at the meeting and obtained by the Post was
pinpoint accurate. But on the most important elements, the Cambodian People's Party
(CPP) denied everything.
What is not in dispute is this: at 8 a.m. on July 4, a collection of more than 100
local NGOs-of which 76 were registered to monitor the election-went to a meeting
with Prime Minister Hun Sen at his Takhmau residence, the so-called Tiger's Lair.
The man who organized the meeting was Om Yentieng, the PM's advisor on information,
local relations and human rights. When the Post spoke to him on July 25-just two
days before the vote-Yentieng refused to answer any questions on the topic.
Also present were some CPP heavyweights-Senior Minister Sok An, Police Chief Hok
Lundy, and Minister of Defense Tea Banh. An unusual mix for what the on-the-record
participants maintain was merely a casual meeting of election-related NGOs.
In all, more than 300 people were present to hear the Prime Minister's thoughts ahead
of the election. Also discussed were the ruling party's plan to discredit the main
local election monitoring organizations (EMOs), and even organize bloody demonstrations
in support of the CPP if necessary.
The hand-written notes of the meeting state that the ruling party had put in place
a plan to counter unfavorable findings by the largest local EMOs by using the 76
local NGOs that had been granted observer status by the National Election Committee
At the meeting, discussion centered around these EMOs, which the party considers
trustworthy, and the remaining 13, which it does not. None of the EMOs regarded as
unfriendly to the ruling party-among them Comfrel, Nicfec and Women for Prosperity-was
By July 4, the NEC had approved 89 local EMOs. That climbed to 102 by election day,
representing an eight-fold increase since the previous general election: NEC figures
show just 13 were granted observer status in 1998, while 15 observed last year's
The Post has been told that all 76 are affiliated to the ruling party. That would
fit a pattern by the CPP, which has established numerous NGOs over the years to do
its bidding. Human Rights Watch noted as much in its 1998 country report, which stated
"In October 1997 the government launched an NGO Monitoring Commission, chaired
by Cabinet Minister Sok An, to follow the activities of NGOs, in particular those
suspected of being involved in political work ... NGOs are not only being monitored
but courted as well, with new ones being set up and funded by the CPP."
The head of the NEC's legal department, Keo Phalla, told the Post that technically,
all the EMOs were operating within the rules.
But, he admitted, it was difficult for his department-which provides first scrutiny
of applications-to know where the EMOs' funding really came from. Asked whether he
thought a number of them were affiliated with the CPP, he replied: "I know,
but I don't want to know."
NEC spokesman Leng Sochea said that according to the NEC's Code of Conduct, no EMO
may be affiliated with any local political party. In theory, at least, that means
none of the 76 should have been granted observer status.
This group of 76 was divided into four alliances, under the collective name 'The
Eye of Justice'. The logo, as seen in the photograph on the page, is a stylized eye
designed especially for this election.
One alliance is headed by Chea Chamroeun, who has confirmed he was at the meeting;
a second by Chhay Veasna, who denied being there; a third by Chan Savuth, whom the
Post was unable to contact; and the last by Kang Sothea, who said he did attend the
Chea Chamroeun is president of at least two of the 76 NGOs-the Cambodian Coordination
Committee (CCOC) and the Cambodian Institute for Development and Human Rights (CIDH).
He also has a controversial prior association with the NEC. In 1998 the Post ran
several stories which reported that Sok An and Om Yentieng successfully lobbied to
have NGOs vote Chamroeun on to the NEC as the NGO representative. It was alleged
that $100 was paid to local NGOs to ensure they voted for him.
In a conversation with the Post on July 28 this year, Chamroeun confirmed several
key details in the notes. Among them: the meeting was indeed organized by Yentieng;
Sok An and Tea Banh were present; and it consisted predominantly of a monologue by
He also confirmed that Hun Sen told participants that Funcinpec president Prince
Norodom Ranariddh would not be President of the National Assembly if the royalists
lost the vote.
However, he claimed its motive was entirely benign.
"It was simply a chat with Khmer NGOs which support the government's policies,"
he said. "The meeting did not discuss any big issues. It was simply to appeal
to the observers to work justly to monitor the election to ensure justice, transparency
and the acceptability of the result."
Chamroeun said those invited were NGOs which are not regarded as "against the
government" and which wanted to observe the election. Hun Sen had appealed to
the NGOs to "keep up their good work and to work properly".
"He also said that if he lost the election, he would step down peacefully from
power and not create any problem," Chamroeun said. "And he said we have
to cooperate and work together."
Fellow alliance head Kang Sothea, who told the Post on July 29 that he had 28 NGOs
in his grouping, echoed Chamroeun's comments and maintained that there was no political
"My alliance will support the election result called by the NEC," he said.
However Om Yentieng's silence on the meeting raises questions about just how innocuous
it really was. Fifteen minutes of questioning failed to elicit an answer on whether
the meeting even took place (see box).
The notes suggest the reason. They reveal a darker purpose, as does the fact that
the party's most senior political, military and police officials were present. The
notes record the Prime Minister saying that if the party lost, "Hun Sen will
be a normal MP". But they go on to outline measures to ensure that losing was
not on the cards. Halfway through the session, the writer states that the remaining
point of discussion "is to destroy the result of the upcoming election".
"We would like a fair and just election, just like it is stated in the law,"
it continues. "But if it is against the law, no one will come here to solve
this problem. We will not let this happen. Everyone needs to accept the result of
This is where Chamroeun's version differs from what is in the notes. The Post was
told further details of the meeting by a person involved in monitoring the election.
He refused to be identified for fear of being targeted.
Although the man was not present at the meeting, he said three people who were there
had told him of the July 4 gathering shortly after it took place.
All three, who spoke with the observer separately and whom he has known for several
years, told a similar tale: the message was that the coalition of the CPP and the
76 NGOs "could not afford to lose" the election.
"If we can win by the law, then we win. If we lose by the law, we must still
win," one of them said they were told.
The three said the 76 EMOs were instructed to release a statement describing the
election as free and fair, regardless of what actually happened. The sources also
said the CPP had decided upon two strategies to counter potentially negative statements
by the largest EMOs-Comfrel and Nicfec-both of which the CPP distrusts.
The notes outline those strategies. The NGOs, it states, were to announce that they
"accept the result of the election". The first option-and it is not entirely
clear from the notes whether this was addressed to the NGOs or the military-would
be "to deploy force to protect the statement of the 76".
The second, ominously, would be "to open the blood way", with the 76 organizing
counter-demonstrations in support of the CPP "in order to attack".
"This means that Hun Sen will protect himself in order to counter-attack,"
the notes record him saying.
The term "opening the blood way" is a military one, used in a situation
where the only way to escape is to rush the enemy and shed blood. In terms of resolving
post-election disputes, it is a worrying turn of phrase.
Quite apart from the CPP's attitude towards the election outcome, the episode also
raises questions about the supposed independence of the NEC. The election body, which
was reformed in the wake of last year's local elections, has again been criticized
in the approach to this ballot for bias towards the CPP.
Whether it knew about the affiliation of the 76 NGOs that it approved as monitors
is not clear-NEC chairman Im Suosdey refused all comment on the approval process,
except to confirm that his board does sign off on the applications. He said he had
not attended the Takhmau meeting, then hung up.
But it is remarkable that a coalition of 76 pro-CPP NGOs-three-quarters of all those
observing, and making up around one-third of the 29,500 local observers-could get
accreditation to observe the elections, apparently with a plan to call them free
and fair regardless. And why the body responsible for ensuring the election was conducted
in a free and fair manner did not notice.
Such a blunder, if that is what it was, also raises questions about the involvement
of the UN Development Programme, which is deeply involved with the NEC. After last
year's local elections it was criticized by some local and international election
observers for overstepping its mandate by lobbying the international community on
behalf of the NEC over equal media access. The observers said the action "clearly
smacked of pro-NEC bias".
But Jonathan Burrough of the UNDP's election unit, told the Post on July 30 that
the UN body had little to do with the day-to-day operations of the NEC such as observer
approvals. It simply provides advisory services to the legal and media departments,
as well as staff training and education.
He said he was not aware of the CPP affiliations of the majority of local EMOs, adding
that the UNDP expected all observer organizations to meet international standards.
There is another aspect: among the final entries in the notes is one that records
that a sum of around $350,000 was with Om Yentieng. The notes do not make clear what
the money was for, but the NGOs were told to contact him about it. The Post was told
by the anonymous observer it was to pay for unspecified "activities".
But Chamroeun claimed his EMOs had not received any funding from the CPP. And on
July 29, his alliance issued its statement, noting that the election was undertaken
"freely, fairly, transparently and equally, without any intimidation or violence".
It went on to state that such an outcome reflects "the CPP's efforts so far
in terms of serving all the citizens with great concern", and closed by saying
that to refute the result of the election would be "an illegal act leading to
political instability and to chaos".
"[That] will bring about new disasters and have an impact on the daily lives
of the citizens, and will also destroy the democracy which is growing these days,"