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Intimidation rife ahead of election: COMFREL

Intimidation rife ahead of election: COMFREL

Pre-election violence is calming down but political intimidation and threats against the non-ruling parties are still ongoing as the lead up to the July 27 national elections progresses, according to a local NGO.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) issued a second preliminary report March 20 on the environment surrounding the preparations for this year’s election, saying that the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) was the foremost target for intimidation.

There was also intimidation reported against the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), the Human Rights Party (HRP) and Funcinpec.

COMFREL said the intimidation and threats took place in Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom and Kandal provinces.

“Until now, there has been no effective inquiry into or resolution of these cases, as the National Election Committee (NEC) and the local authorities have each transferred the responsibility for dealing with such issues back to each other,” said COMFREL.

The committee said it was concerned over the NEC’s decision not to improve procedures related to vote-buying, access to media, neutrality of civil servants, national police authorities, members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Force (RCAF), judicial officials, village chiefs and election complaints.

Vote buying is an offense under the election law but there is no definition of activities in which political parties give gifts and materials to voters during campaigning.

Civil servants and members of the armed forces, ranking from office directors to general directors of the government institutions, have been involved in activities strengthening the local ruling CPP and giving gifts, according to COMFREL.

“Within an observation period of only one month, at least 60 cases were seen of civil servants and armed forces holding such activities during working hours,” it said.

At the local level, village and commune chiefs and local authorities are actively involved in threatening people whose position is not accordance with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

The report said that 84 percent of political party news broadcast on national television station TVK between February 8 and March 8 was devoted to CPP activities. The broadcasts gave 13 percent to Funcinpec, while the SRP only appeared five times.

The report also criticized the NEC for continuing to use the excuse of not enough evidence to reject election complaints and for not strengthening its investigation mechanisms.

Kem Sokha, president of the HRP, told the Post on April 3 that local authorities loyal to the CPP are carrying on with old communist ideas to create problems for the other parties.

“The local authorities of the CPP have tried to disturb those who are non-CPP by removing their signboards and holding meetings with villagers,” Sokha said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen told the local Khmer newspaper Kampuchea Thmey in an article published April 1 that the political environment in the run-up to the election was much better than at the previous election in 2003.

“The on going process (economic growth) is normal and has brought more foreign investment such as construction firms,” Hun Sen was quoted as saying.

“I think that at the moment individual political parties must make the interests of the nation their priority and participate in the competition by respecting the election law and constitution of Cambodia,” he added.

Sokha, however, said the economic growth Cambodia was experiencing only benefited members of CPP and the rich businessmen, while inflation was hurting the poor.

I don’t think the poor have ever benefited from the distribution of natural resources, such as land concessions or many other natural resources,

he said.

Mu Sochua, deputy secretary general of the SRP, told the Post on April 3 that widespread intimidation ahead of election day will impede the free and fair elections.

There are 8.12 million voters eligible to cast votes in July.  

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