"My assessment of these elections is in no way a foregone conclusion. There are no blank checks."
THE European Union believes that the registration of voters has provided the technical
base for a "free, fair and credible" July 26 election.
But journalists attending EU Observer Chief Sven Linder's press conference June 23
were largely left to work out for themselves whether the EU felt that a politically
"free and fair" atmosphere existed or not.
One of the main points Linder stressed in his first public judgment of the election
process since registration ended June 15 was that his observation mission was independent
and its findings were "in no way a foregone conclusion".
Linder also chose the occasion to respond to criticism of his mission. He said his
terms of reference gave him the responsibility for the European Community's final
assessment of the electoral process.
How he worked within that, and the conclusions he would eventually draw, were "completely
independent... I take instructions from no one," he said.
Linder said his observers had covered "an impressive lot of ground". Disputing
a previous report in the Post, he said they were free and encouraged to investigate
complaints and problems.
The EU, which is paying about $11.5 million toward the Cambodian election, felt that
the inevitable mistakes during registration were "of a technical nature, rather
than politically motivated".
Linder said the fact that 98% of voters were registered was a clear reflection of
their will to decide on their own future. "This is very encouraging and they
must not be let down."
Linder cited problems of supply and communications; stations closing early and being
hard to find; and people being refused registration and not having enough information
The EU was "looking into" opposition accusations that large numbers of
illegal aliens had been registered. "However, the number of possibly illegally
registered persons is so low that it could not possibly have a massive influence
on the outcome."
"The result of registration can, in my opinion, form the satisfactory foundation
for free, fair and credible elections," he concluded.
Linder said that various political parties had registered and opened provincial offices.
However, EU observers had reported "a number of instances" of intimidation
by village chiefs.
Asked to publicly acknowledge that the village chiefs were from the CPP, Linder said:
"We all know the political structure in the villages, don't we?"
He called for the National Election Committee (NEC) to refuse to allow village chiefs
inside or "in the immediate vicinity" of polling stations come election
When asked whether the NEC - which he acknowledged as having "many CPP members"
- was appropriate to be charged with taking measures against intimidatory CPP village
chiefs, Linder said: "I think the NEC and the PECs [provincial election commissions]
have, on the whole, acted in an impartial way."
NEC spokesman Leng Sochea later agreed that Linder's suggestion was necessary to
ensure a freer atmosphere on July 26, but that the NEC couldn't accomplish this without
the cooperation of the country's security forces.
Linder said: "The question of impunity is an issue of central importance."
The formation of a committee to look into impunity was welcome but had come "a
bit late in the day".
The government must ensure an electoral climate with no more killings, no further
violence or intimidation, and for crimes to be swiftly investigated, Linder said.
"The quality of the electoral climate in this respect will form a very important
part of my assessment.
"My assessment of these elections is in no way a foregone conclusion. There
are no blank checks connected with this observation process. Should there be any
chance those who believe that anything goes... they will find themselves to be badly
mistaken. Please don't take us or our conclusions for granted."
Linder was asked three times to give his judgment about whether a free and fair political
environment existed, as he had similarly given about the technical environment.
He eventually said: "When it comes to the political climate I want to refrain
from making any final comment now. I have shared with you my worries on some issues."
Linder refused to discuss the findings of many other foreign groups that the election
process was sufficiently flawed as to be suspended. "I could of course throw
back at you that the views of the Friends of Cambodia and the ASEAN troika very much
coincided with what I have just said," Linder answered.