The National Election Committee (NEC) was hailed by the government on Tuesday for saying that there would be 45,000 observers for the July 29 national elections.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the large number of registered election observers would dispel criticism and help ensure the polls are accountable and acceptable.
The NEC’s registration for national and international observers will wrap up on July 18, but the tally has already eclipsed the 40,456 observers that were registered for the 2013 national polls.
Despite the seemingly large interest in registration from national organisations, three major civil society groups are notably missing.
Claiming a “bad political environment”, watchdogs Comfrel, Nicfec and Transparency International Cambodia (TI) have declined to send observers.
Dim Sovannarom, a member and spokesman for the NEC, said 44,999 national observers from 81 institutions and associations had signed up, as well as 17 international observers from Myanmar, Singapore and China.
“The NEC is reviewing another 5,711 national observers from nine other NGOs and associations, and some international observers from the International Conference of Asia Political Parties [ICAPP],” Sovannarom said.
While he didn’t name the national organisations, previous elections indicate the majority were from the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia.
Election expert Yoeurng Sotheara said he welcomed the huge number of observers, but noted that in past years the reports from government-aligned sources differed greatly from independent observers.
“The participation of CPP-linked observers seems to compete with NGOs that previously acted as observers and received funds from the EU and the US."
“Their findings are controversial and contradict that of some EU- and US-backed organisations,” he said, adding that watchdogs from Western nations had taken part in the process since 1993."
“The law does not mention about the participation of national and international observers as a compulsory condition to legitimise the election result ... It only has political value to legitimise the election in the eyes of the international community,” Sotheara said.
However, Siphan said the increased number of election observers makes the results more acceptable, transparent, and “shows the attention given to strengthening the democratic process through free and fair elections”.
Dismissing any downside to the lack of EU or US participation as observers, he said: “First of all, observers who are NGOs are just tools for foreigners who pay them to be observers. In the 2013 elections they caused a lot of trouble, and therefore they are not important.”