Sven Linder was Chief
Observer for the European Union's election unit and
chairman of the Joint International Observer Group. The
JIOG disbanded in August; some EU observers remained
working until the end of September. Linder spoke to Beth
Moorthy and Matthew Grainger Sept 30, and is scheduled to
give a final statement on Oct 2 before leaving Cambodia.
Post: What have you been doing since the beginning of
August? What exactly have your observers been targeting?
Sven Linder: I have been
following the post-electoral process ... following
exactly the same procedures as I followed before, to
follow the process and keep mum while doing that until
the process is finished, and then comment on it... If you
look at the reconciliation period, the complaint period,
[EU observers] have been following this, they have
visited the courts, the NEC, the Constitutional Council
quite a number of times... We have tried to follow [the
process] as best we can, and we got a few demonstrations
for good measure!
Post: Do you actually consider
the electoral process now finished?
Linder: Yes, as far as my terms
of reference [which] are to follow the electoral process
until the installation of the successful candidates...
Post: So you don't consider the
formation of a government to be part of candidates being
Linder: No, my terms of
reference are exactly what I told you. This is not for me
to decide, these are the terms of reference given me by
the EU; I follow those.
Post: How do you think the NEC
performed in the post-electoral [period]?
Linder: I'm going to comment on
that in my [Oct 2] statement... but let me put it this
way, I think that the standards were higher in the
pre-electoral phase and the polling and counting day
phases than in the post-electoral phase.
Post: And presumably the same
sort of comment would apply to the Constitutional Council
Linder: It had a very minor role
to play in the pre-electoral process ... I'm going to
comment on the Council as well on Friday.
Post: In JIOG statements and
things you have said in the past the idea is always that
the final conclusions of international observers would
come only after complaints were resolved satisfactorily.
Have they been?
Linder: I have said that the
final conclusions would come at the end of the electoral
process... I can't speak on behalf of the JIOG because it
doesn't exist, it was dissolved in the beginning of
August when the UNEAS [United Nations Electoral
Assistance Secretariat] office was closed. I can at this
stage only speak as the ex-chair of the JIOG... and as EU
Post: But the EU has also said
they'd like to see complaints resolved satisfactorily.
Linder: We have said we would
like everything to be satisfactory, and on Friday I will
comment on that basis
Post: But our understanding was
that it would be more than that, that you actually
wouldn't make a final judgment until the process was
finished. Now, to your mind, the process is finished?
Linder: Yes. [But] I mean, the
political process is of course not finished... the
political process can go on for a long time. But...
within my terms of reference, the electoral process is
finished. Another thing is, I know that opposition
parties are still making points on various electoral
issues but that is... part of the political process.
Within my terms of reference, the electoral process was
finished when the National Assembly was opened.
Post: So, according to your
terms of reference, technical problems become political
problems after Siem Reap?
Linder: I'll put it this way,
the technical problems or complaints are now part of the
Post: But they always have been,
Linder: Yes, but I don't know
what you are aiming at. I'm telling you my mandate is
finished according to my terms of reference... would you
like me to stay on forever?
Post: [EU Special
Representative] Glenys Kinnock said July 29
"...final definitive positions on the election
process must be taken only after the current serious
concerns have been addressed and resolved."So when
she says `final definitive positions' on the election
process does that not include you?
Linder: I have my terms of
reference and I stand by them. Glenys Kinnock had her
terms of reference and she stands by them.
Post: They're different?
Linder: But I'm not answering
for Glenys Kinnock, I'm answering for me.
Post: So her statement doesn't
necessarily apply to what you're doing.
Linder: I'm not saying there's
no difference, I'm only saying she made her statement as
Special Representative and I'm making my statement as
Post: Would it be fair to say
that you consider the elections as a whole as a step
forward towards democracy?
Post: What about post-voting:
the NEC's role, the Constitutional Council's role,
demonstrations, the travel ban is [all this] still a step
Linder: I have said several
times that... the development of democracy is a process,
and I consider the quality of the 1998 elections to be
higher than the quality of the 1993 elections. And in
terms of, for example, violence, the level of violence
was much higher five years ago... This is something that
some journalists, some critics fail to understand... look
at democracy as a process. I have never said 1998
elections were absolutely perfect... but they are in my
opinion, and I remain convinced, a step forward in
Cambodia's democratic development.
Post: Did you waver in that
conviction after the JIOG's July 27 and 29 statements and
in the face of more recent events the complaints, the way
they were handled, the demonstrations?
Linder: Not in the slightest.
And that's one point I would really like to make... there
has been a lot of criticism saying that the JIOG was
premature in its statement. [At the time of the Jul 27
statement,] we had access to the radio reports from both
days by our observer teams deployed all over the
country... the most important answer was the overall
assessment of the counting process... We had, when we
came to that conclusion, 95% [of the radio reports
assessing the counting process as] `good' or `very good'.
It was not... that we were sitting there off the cuff,
saying, `Oh, this looks fine.' According to established
international election observation techniques, we had a
very firm basis to stand on and I can tell you had we had
something different, say 50/50, we wouldn't have
hesitated to put the whole process on hold... But you can
be absolutely sure that if we'd waited until preliminary
results were known, we would have been accused by the
press [and] opposition parties of being partial. I stand
by my conclusions and I stand by the timing.
Post: On July 27 you said:
"... I can only say that the international observer
community has passed these elections." Do you think
that might have been a prematurely broad statement for
the elections as a whole
Linder: There have been problems
in the post-electoral process, no doubt about that. But
the main question to be answered is, have these problems
in any important way influenced the result of the votes
on polling and counting day? And to my mind, in my
opinion, the answer to that is no. These elections have
not been perfect off-the-shelf western-standard
elections, that was not to be expected. But the process
has been of the standard to which it makes it still
possible to say that they have been free and fair to an
extent which allows it to reflect the will of the people
in a credible way... I am convinced that can still stand
as an overall assessment of these elections with its
problems at different times.
Post: What about another
observer group, NDI, saying that polling day and counting
day were an aberration compared to every other day before
Linder: I would not call the day
when the voters expressed their will, which is the core
of any election, an aberration... The first question is,
were they able to express their will, and our conclusion
is that they were able to, to a satisfactory extent. The
next question is, has anything happened after they cast
their vote that gives reason to believe that the election
had been rigged or tampered, to an extent that would have
changed the will expressed by the people in an important
way? And there is my conclusion that that has not been
the case and therefore I cannot call those two days an
Post: There was a lot of
controversy around tampering with ballot bags, and that
wouldn't have anything to do with what your people saw on
polling and counting days.
Linder: No doubt there were
single incidents where some tampering could have taken
place, but our observers saw nothing that implied
tampering [took] place to an extent that it would have
influenced the election... There were places where our
observers gave very low marks for the bags, but...
because I am not the Constitutional Council, I am not the
NEC, I am here to observe the whole process... My task
has been to look at all the complaints, give an overall
assessment has what has happened here changed the main
thrust, the main direction of the polls? I can only say
we have found nothing of that kind.
Post: What about the context of
the elections, surely you have to take into context that
there was a coup the year before, the opposition had been
smashed, the CPP had free reign for a year, mass
Linder: When I was first asked
in March if I was prepared to do this job, my first
reaction was: "My God, how could they ever be able
to hold elections in that country on the 26th of July?
... But day by day I was more pleasantly surprised; one
by one the pieces of that jigsaw puzzle fell into
place... When I look at all the important events that
took place in 1997 and 1998, I think it is remarkable
that elections, of course not of perfect quality but of
this quality, could be arranged and could take place...
On polling day I was impressed, even moved, by the
atmosphere... everything was calm and quiet and solemn,
and the last voter [I observed]... was an old man
probably over 80 and I thought when I saw him, he has
been through a lot in his life... I was convinced that
those were not people flogged to come to the polls,
intimidated to come to the polls, they came of their own
free will. That is why I am optimistic, that Cambodians
realize that democracy is their right.
Post: I'll put it to you that
[JIOG's statement on the 27th] actually promoted the sort
of conflict we're seeing now... it backed whoever the
opposition was going to be into a corner, their
complaints wouldn't have been recognized because you'd
already said [the election] was fine.
Linder: We didn't say the whole
electoral process was fine, we said that what we'd seen
on polling and counting day was fine. And what is the
point of having international observers if they don't
tell publicly what they see?
Post: But [the statement] was
widely reported and understood as an endorsement [of the
entire process] and I didn't see a statement coming out
[from the JIOG] to clarify that. Cambodian politicians
and [Cambodian] people believed it.
Linder: What we said was so
crystal clear that it could not be misunderstood... if we
had waited, say, a few days then you could really talk
about putting some parties into a corner because then we
would have known the preliminary results and then we
would have had a flood of accusations... there is no way
you could avoid that. The timing as I see it was
Post: Wasn't there a way to say
yes, polling and counting were okay, but we'll see about
the next step, and the next?
Linder: We made one statement,
covering both days, after the report from those days were
Post: How could the Cambodian
people look at this statement in any other way than as a
ringing endorsement of what had been done?
Linder: I don't know what you're
aiming at. We were expected and of course it was not only
natural but necessary to make a statement of what we saw
on polling and counting day. What is your point? I mean,
you don't form an international electoral observation
operation just to go to a country and sit there...
following normal international observation standards, we
issued a statement telling the world what we had seen. It
was very precisely worded. What else could we have done?
Post: When is the final [JIOG]
report going to be released, since [the draft] is dated
Linder: That is up to the United
Nations in New York.
Post: Why is it taking so long?
Linder: We did exactly what was
our duty. We made a report and sent it to the United
Nations. I have no decision-making power over what the
United Nations would elect. And now, ladies and gentlemen
time is up!