'Don't accuse me of loving power - the people gave it to me,' Hun Sen thunders on July 29.
In the final analysis, will the 2003 election be declared free and fair, or "free
and fair enough", as Prime Minister Hun Sen described last year's local elections?
Several monitors have offered a qualified yes to "free and fair", citing
the lack of bloodshed, widespread calm, and order in the voting process. Others insist
the election was a parody of the democratic process marred by intimidation, violence
and dirty dealing.
Officials from both the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Funcinpec have already denounced
the results as "unfair and irregular", and vowed to seek recounts and revoting
for several precincts.
The Cambodian People's Party (CPP), while appearing to remain above the fray, released
preliminary election results of its own and insisted any new government would proceed
with Hun Sen at the helm.
As the political process works itself out, few would deny that major improvements
were evident. Most visibly, the number of killings and intimidation declined again
from earlier elections.
The UN reported 13 potentially politically-related murders during this election cycle,
while human rights groups noted a further 23 cases of serious intimidation. That
contrasts with at least 17 killings in the run-up to the commune elections, more
than 30 in 1998, and hundreds during the 1993 election period.
The general feeling among many observers and human rights groups was that intimidation
is still pervasive, but "more subtle and sophisticated". The International
Republican Institute (IRI) said investigations for politically motivated crimes "were
rare ... and almost [none] resulted in credible prosecutions".
Restrictions on media access were also eased. All 22 parties enjoyed limited access
to state television, with Funcinpec and SRP receiving more coverage than ever before.
The National Election Committee (NEC) was widely hailed as being "more inclusive
and transparent", but local electoral bodies were branded as overwhelmingly
partisan with about 80 percent of officials linked to the CPP.
ANFREL reported that vote-buying was "very prevalent by all three major parties"
and on the increase. Traditional 'gifts' such as cash and rice were widely distributed,
along with new incentives such as loans, lotteries and even coupons redeemable upon
specific election results.
The European Union also criticized the influence of village chiefs on the voting
process. The National Democratic Institute reported local officials frequently acted
as extensions of the CPP.
Ultimately it is the perceptions of Cambodians themselves that will matter most.
Encouragingly, a recent Asia Foundation survey reported that four out of five say
they feel free to express their political opinions. However, two-thirds of the electorate
still doubt their vote makes any difference whatsoever.
European Union, with 124 observers in all 24 provinces.
Free and fair? Almost, but will not commit to language deemed "too narrow".
Quote: "Elections were well conducted, but [there is] still some way to
go to full democracy."
Praised: very few and minor irregularities, good technical preparation, improved
access to media, enhanced transparency of process.
Criticized: alleged political killings, distribution of vote incentives, pressure
from village chiefs. Also NEC directives not fully enforced, and concerns about anti-Vietnamese
Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), with
65 observers in 20 provinces.
Free and fair? No.
Quote: "The election was generally peaceful, but [there were] serious
concerns that prevent ANFREL from concluding the election was free and fair."
Praised: the peaceful atmosphere, exercising of civil rights, high integrity
of most election officials, increased level of political campaigning, voters' knowledge
of election process.
Criticized: widespread intimidation, pervasive vote-buying, misinformation
from election officials, voter registration failures, confiscation of voting cards,
intimidation of ethnic Vietnamese, lack of ballot secrecy or security.
Comfrel and Nicfec, with 20,089 observers in all 24 provinces.
Free and fair? Possibly, will announce on August 5.
Quote: "This election day, we observed no serious incidents, but that
does not mean it was an acceptable election."
Praised: the reduction of political killings and serious intimidation, more
involvement by civil society, dynamic and active election campaigns.
Criticized: intimidation, which was subtle and sophisticated; widespread discrimination
to pressure voters; partisan electoral bodies; regulations not enforced; inadequate
complaint process; premature campaigning by all parties; disproportionate media coverage
International Republican Institute (IRI), with 61 observers in 19 provinces.
Free and fair? No, did not meet international standards.
Quote: "This election cycle was an improvement, but still fell short
of recognized international standards."
Praised: NEC operated with improved transparency; open debates and active
campaigning; peaceful and orderly vote; few technical problems with counting and
Criticized: serious deficiencies in voter registration; political violence
and widespread intimidation from the ruling party; pressure on electorate to vote
CPP; climate of impunity; weak enforcement of election law; biased media coverage
of government; interference by village chiefs; vote-counting irregularities.
Small figures in parentheses are the 1998 results.
Oddar Meanchey was created after the 1998 election.
Source: Phnom Penh Post archives and COMFREL, July 31, 2003.