C ONTROL of the military and police during the 1998 election was a key issue raised
by politicians from both major parties during an electoral seminar late last month.
First Prime Minister and Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh urged the armed
forces to stay neutral in the campaign.
Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, of the Cambodian People's Party, called for the
armed forces to be put under "special assignment" - which he did not specify
- to reduce violence.
The two made their comments at the five-day "Electoral systems and an administration"
seminar in Phnom Penh.
Organized by the Ministry of Interior and the Khmer Institute for Democracy, the
seminar was aimed
kick-starting debate and preparations about the next election.
It led to a chorus of calls for action to ensure the elections were free and fair,
without political violence.
In a message read on his behalf, King Norodom Sihanouk said a free and fair election
was vital "for our democracy to survive."
He appealed for the freedom for political parties to run their campaigns with "mutual
respect" for each other.
Ranariddh, in a speech read by co-Minister of Interior You Hockry, appealed to the
army and police to not favor "any one political party."
Sar Kheng went the farthest, delivering a speech which outlined 11 "essential
principles" for the holding of the election.
They included putting the police and military on special assignment "to ensure
order and security", and to have firm punishment for all actions of violence,
during the election.
Kheng said that an independent electoral commission, "with or without the government's
participation" must be established.
Security for political parties and candidates should be ensured.
As well as urging equal access to the media by all parties, he called for some form
of "financial support" for them from the state - to be repaid after the
Kheng welcomed comments by diplomats at the seminar that the international community
would continue to support democracy in Cambodia.
He closed his speech by saying that, on behalf of himself, Ranariddh, Second Prime
Minister Hun Sen and the King, "I would like to respond to your Excellencies
that the Kingdom of Cambodia will not disappoint the international community."
Earlier, Kheng said it was too early to say whether should maintain a proportional
representation system, adopt a first-past-the-post one or a mixture of both.
The seminar, featuring foreign electoral experts, included a day-long closed session
with provincial governors, deputy governors police chiefs.