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Letter attacks election monitor after RFA talk

Comfrel head Koul Panha speaks at a press conference following the 2017 commune elections. The election monitor received criticism from local media for questioning the fairness and competitiveness of the upcoming elections.
Comfrel head Koul Panha speaks at a press conference following the 2017 commune elections. The election monitor received criticism from local media for questioning the fairness and competitiveness of the upcoming elections. Pha Lina

Letter attacks election monitor after RFA talk

Local media outlets have attacked election monitor Koul Panha by publishing a letter to the editor claiming he had attempted to cause chaos during the 2013 and 2017 elections and was attempting to do so again when he spoke to Radio Free Asia last week on the legitimacy of the upcoming July ballot.

Panha, who heads local election monitor Comfrel and is the chairperson of regional group Anfrel, spoke to RFA on Thursday night, asserting the July national elections lacked fairness and noting international groups had said the CNRP’s participation was needed to have a legitimate election. The legitimacy of the upcoming poll has been questioned since the forced dissolution of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s only viable competitor, the CNRP, and the arrest of its leader.

While not clarifying which organisation he was speaking for, Panha said a determination would be made in the next few weeks as to whether to send election monitors.

“We will see whether there is a fair competition and that the process ensures competition. We will see and decide on this matter,” he said.

However, government mouthpiece Fresh News and local outlet Swift News published a letter from a “Pol Peanrin” claiming that Panha was looking to disrupt the upcoming elections and his selection to the Anfrel board was a reward for disrupting past electoral processes.

“Anfrel will hold a meeting in Bangkok in April to organise an ill-intentioned plan to defame the elections and Cambodia. And Panha will try to make changes to the current National Election Committee,” the letter reads.

Comfrel’s monitoring coordinator, Korn Savang, did not comment on Panha’s remarks, saying they were his opinions, but rejected accusations of misconduct by the election monitoring NGO in past elections.

“If we see something which is technically not in accordance with rights and freedom, are we to just say that is okay? That is not possible,” he said, adding that the NGO functioned in a nonpartisan manner during elections.

However, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan claimed Panha was biased towards the opposition and had created the NGO election monitoring coalition the “Situation Room” to support the CNRP. The coalition has come under heavy fire in the past for its criticism of the NEC and irregularities in the 2013 elections.

NEC spokesman Dim Sovannarom said the body would release a statement on Monday, addressing the issue, but noted it was required that election monitors remain neutral.

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