Kelly Brooks, a US citizen working for Oxfam, said she volunteered as a commune
election observer with NICFEC (Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair
Elections) because she was keen to participate in the country's democratic
"It's a fantastic way to get involved in Cambodia's election
process at a historic time," she said. She was not surprised that 90 foreigners,
mostly long-term residents of Cambodia, had also signed up with NICFEC. "That's
because there is such a large community of active expats who are dedicated to
Cambodia and who care about the issues."
Around 33,000 local election
observers from COMFREL (Committee for Free and Fair Elections), COFFEL
(Coalition for Free and Fair Elections), as well as 365 international observers
from the EU Observation Mission (EU-EOM), Anfrel (Asian Network for Free
Elections), and other organizations, will take part in the commune elections on
"I am happy there has been such a large response to our request
for volunteers," Hang Puthea, executive director of NICFEC, told the
organization's international observers at a training session January 26.
"Observers are important for the democratic development of Cambodia.
think that with the presence of foreigners in the election, election officials
will follow the rules better. So your contribution is important."
he warned observers to avoid dangerous situations.
"We don't expect
there to be violence on election day, but if there is, we don't expect any of
you to be heroes," he said. "If you're near violence, please leave, but try to
find out the result."
Susan Reesor, coordinator of NICFEC's international
observer team, said she was "shocked" by the high level of participation of
"It shows that the people who are living and
working here really care about the elections and about grassroots democratic
participation in Cambodia," she said. Reesor added that NICFEC's international
observers would support the organization's domestic observers in the field.
"A foreign observer can say things that a domestic observer may feel
intimidated about addressing in the polling station," said Reesor.
"International observers are part of this team, and hopefully the expatriates
can give encouragement to local observers when they are in the field
"I think that by volunteering you show how much you care about
the country," said Tim Meisburger, elections advisor at The Asia Foundation, who
co-chaired the NICFEC training session. "Your presence will help deter violence
and confirm the election results. You will provide confidence to voters when
they see the international committee is concerned about the
Meisburger said international observers would visit numerous
polling stations on election day, noting any deviations from proper polling
procedures and anything that threatens a free and fair election environment.
Meisburger also told observers to stay away from dangerous
"If you hear there is a road blocked by a group of men with
guns, don't go down the road. Just make a note of it - that's good
Edgar Montalban, a program advisor at Concern, said he expected
no danger in Siem Reap where he will be stationed on polling day.
don't think there will be any problems," he said. "I volunteered as an election
assistant in the last election. It's helping the Cambodians."