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Groups urge 'free and fair' election pledge

Election officials tally votes at a ballot station in Prey Veng in 2013. Yesterday the Electoral Reform Alliance met to continue discussing a road map for free and fair election standards.
Election officials tally votes at a ballot station in Prey Veng in 2013. Yesterday the Electoral Reform Alliance met to continue discussing a road map for free and fair election standards. Vireak Mai

Groups urge 'free and fair' election pledge

A coalition of election monitoring NGOs yesterday urged the government to endorse an international commitment to free and fair elections, and to evaluate the Kingdom’s elections according to its standards.

Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel – part of the umbrella group Electoral Reform Alliance – said the Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections, endorsed by election committees and groups from 33 countries in 2012, should be endorsed by the National Election Committee (NEC) and drawn upon for assessment criteria.

Panha explained that “the declaration is not an international law, but is roadmap to ensure indicators for a free and fair election in Cambodia”, and should not be a burden for the government to adopt.

“We want to see credible reform of the NEC, [voter] registration, guaranteed rights for voters, the voter list, and independence [in] resolving electoral disputes,” as well as campaign finance reform, Panha added.

Although invited to attend, representatives from the NEC, the Ministry of Interior and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) did not participate in the conference.

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Keo Phirum, who attended the event, pointed to political intimidation, threats to remove parliamentary immunity and an alleged slowdown in issuing new identification cards as impediments to electoral fairness.

The government, however, insists that it has ramped up its ID issuing scheme in recent months.

Tep Vireak, Khmer Power Party spokesman – also present – said the prime minister should face term limits and that the NEC should be done away with altogether.

“We want to see a free and fair election that is accepted by all Cambodian people, including expatriates and all political parties, not just the CPP and CNRP,” Vireak said.

Hang Puthea, NEC spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that the Bangkok declaration outlines “parallel” objectives to the NEC’s priorities, but that it is up to the National Assembly to endorse it.

Addressing the issue of expatriates being unable to vote from abroad, Puthea says it is mainly a budgetary problem.

As for issuing new ID cards, Puthea said “when they finish giving ID cards, we will see if everyone has [them] and then address this problem”.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan wouldn’t comment on the prospects of a vote on the declaration. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan also declined to comment, saying he was unfamiliar with the document.

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