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Donors threaten to deny election aid

Donors threaten to deny election aid

E LECTIONS planned for May next year will go ahead as scheduled, according to Deputy

Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, but doubt remains over funding for

the poll.

The United Nations and other international donors have reportedly threatened to withhold

more than $21 million in aid money and technical assistance if proposed legislation

governing the elections is not modified by the National Assembly next week.

Sar Kheng said earlier this week that draft legislation will be passed before the

end of the month, but the senior representative of an international political foundation

said donors were not prepared to spend money on a "farce".

"Donors are unanimous on this one, clearly the draft legislation as it now exists

is not sufficient to ensure free and fair elections," he said.

"If the election does not have at least the chance to be free and fair, then

we won't bother spending money on it."

The representative said donors and foreign diplomats had expressed their concerns

to the Deputy Prime Minister in a recent meeting, but would have to wait and see

how the National Assembly voted before making a final decision.

Doubts center mainly on a provision in the electoral law for an independent election

commission which would supervise the poll and judge disputed returns.

"The original draft prepared by the Interior Ministry was good. It proposed

a small number of neutral officials, but the whole structure of the commission has

become unwieldy and open to the very real risk of politicization," said Pok

Than, the president of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

"Donors here are serious when they said they will recommend to their governments

that funding be withheld if the changes are not made," he said.

"But I'm deeply concerned members of the National Assembly will not heed the

warnings and will not push for the necessary amendments," Pok Than said.

The structure of the commission in the original draft was changed in September by

the Council of Ministers to effectively give the government the power of veto over

commission appointments.

A "relatively" free and fair election is seen as crucial to arresting Cambodia's

worsening economy and improving the country's international reputation.

Both foreign and Cambodian government sources agree, however, that the election will

not be meaningful without significant international funding and technical assistance,

citing a lack of funds, political will and expertise within the Cambodian administration

to properly handle the task.

At the same time, there is considerable doubt that the May ballot - for technical

reasons alone, with election preparations aleady far behind schedule - can proceed

on time.

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