Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Killings political or big coincidence - election expert

Killings political or big coincidence - election expert

Killings political or big coincidence - election expert

The recent killings of Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Funcinpec members are either

politically motivated or Cambodia is witnessing the "world's biggest

coincidence", an international election expert said November

21.

Following an independent inquiry into the November 14 shooting of SRP

activist, Phuong Sophat, and Funcinpec commune council candidate, Thon Phally,

both in Srolop commune in Kampong Cham, he said there was much more to these and

earlier incidents than just personal rivalry, property dispute or

sorcery.

"That is too much of a coincidence," he said, speaking on

condition of anonymity. He said his opinion was based on evidence he was sharing

with other investigators. SRP cabinet chief, Phi Thach, also claimed the

killings were a clear case of systematic elimination of the opposition intended

to send a signal to the public.

"[In the recent case], the killers of

Funcinpec candidate Thon Phally first asked him if he belonged to the SRP. When

he told them he was from Funcinpec, they killed him saying even those from the

royalist party were the same. That clearly shows the intention of the killers,"

Thach told the Post November 22.

Seven people have been killed in the run

up to the commune elections, most from the opposition SRP. Five were commune

council candidates, although the latest SRP killing was of a party member, not a

council candidate.

Local authorities said November 18 that the SRP's

Sophat was involved in a rape and robbery case August 12, while Phally had a

land dispute with his neighbor. Both were shot dead in separate villages in

Srolop commune within an hour of each other by unidentified gunmen.

Even

if opposition allegations that such killings were "centrally coordinated" proved

baseless, the observer felt that "increasing incidents certainly seem to be

centrally tolerated. Else, why has the Royal Government not explored the

political angle [in any of the cases] and set an example?"

Human rights

group Licadho meanwhile said it had responded to 60 commune election related

cases of threats, harassment, intimidation and killings since early this year.

It said that "29 cases have been confirmed to be politically motivated or likely

to be politically motivated".

"Eighteen of these cases [including the two

latest killings] are still under investigation and it is still difficult to

ascribe a political motivation. Only one case was found to be a false

allegation, the others are likely [to be politically related]," stated the NGO's

progress report of November 19.

While Funcinpec and law enforcement

authorities were waiting for the findings of the police investigation before

commenting, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, which represents 18

local human rights NGOs, said it was independently probing the cases.

"We will release the findings after compiling reports from all of our

members," said director Sok Sam Oeun.

General-Secretary of the National

Election Committee, Im Suosdey, when asked whether such incidents were an

electoral concern, and whether the findings of the NEC's own security committee

were any different from those of the government in all other cases of threats,

violence or killings reported so far, said violence of any kind was a

concern.

"In addition to the security committee earlier established on

the Prime Minister's orders, our provincial and commune level security

committees also independently inquire into each complaint. But we have neither

the means nor resources to establish a parallel investigation mechanism," he

said.

Thirty-three international observers and 19,663 national observers

have registered for the upcoming commune elections. The electoral organizations

and political parties said November 21 they would like more international

observers to ensure the elections are held in a free and fair manner in all

1,621 communes.

"However, it seems the commune elections are not

eliciting as much interest [among international observers] as the general

elections," said a senior NEC official. He expressed the hope that countries

watching the democratic process at work would send more observers nearer

election time.

ï The registration of political agents will take place December 7-13, while

the final list of commune council candidates registered by the political parties

will likely be posted by November 29.

The NEC said parties which missed

the October deadline to register their candidates in certain communes would not

be given another chance to do so, since that would require an amendment to the

commune election law, "for which there is neither time nor the

resources."

Six political parties led by the opposition SRP petitioned

the NEC saying they could not register candidates in some communes due to either

floods or political intimidation.

ï Human rights and legal experts say the Constitution allows pre-trial

prisoners equal voting rights under the premise that people are innocent until

proven guilty.

However, that won't happen in the February, 2002 commune

election since the electoral process includes no provisions for pre-trial

prisoners, patients or absentee voters. NEC's Suosdey said November 21 that he

hoped the system would one day mature to such a level.

Suosdey, who

returned recently from witnessing Australia's general election, said: "Like in

other countries, we would like to include absentee ballots or postal votes and

honor the voting rights of patients and even prisoners. But the electoral system

has to become sound and efficient for that, which will take time."

That

would be helped by improving the basic electoral infrastructure and upgrading

communication systems. Mobile registration and polling stations, telephones,

electricity and fax machines would all make a difference, he said. And they will

hopefully be in place by the 2003 national election.

ï What will happen if the difference in votes polled by two or more political

parties is 0.05 percent? Under proportional representation would the party with

the higher count be allocated the remaining seat? And what would happen if, in

some stray cases, allocation of only one seat was left and the difference turned

out to be even less than 0.05 percent?

The NEC has been advised to

upgrade its computer system to a level where such comparisons can be specified

down to the last fraction of a percentage point to avoid a repeat of the

confusion and political conflict that marred the results of the 1998 general

election.

Once specific details were available, arbitrating on such

issues on a case-to-case basis would be much easier, experts said. For its part

the NEC said it had requested such an upgrade and would press ahead once the

promised foreign funding turned up.

ï The trial of the alleged killer of Funcinpec candidate Meas Soy will start

Nov 27 in Kampong Chhnang.

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