Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Foreign residents support commune elections

Foreign residents support commune elections

Foreign residents support commune elections

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

development.

"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

Feb 3.

"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.

"We

think that with the presence of foreigners in the election, election officials

will follow the rules better. So your contribution is important."

However

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

international observers.

"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

together."

"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

election."

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

situations.

"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

enough."

Edgar Montalban, a program advisor at Concern, said he expected

no danger in Siem Reap where he will be stationed on polling day.

"I

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."

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