With the Wednesday deadline imminent, the National Election Committee (NEC) expects close to 80,000 Cambodians will have registered to observe the July 29 national elections – twice the number who served in the role in 2013.
In an announcement, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said on Tuesday that while the deadline to accept applications hadn’t closed yet, it had so far recognised 72,045 local observers from 107 institutions.
It is also reviewing 6,520 applications from 14 institutions, while the review process hadn’t yet begun for some groups.
Puthea said while experienced poll watchers such as Comfrel, Nicfec and Transparency International chose to sit out the election citing the “political environment” as an excuse, the fact that more observers from many more organisations chose to be a part of the process helps grow democracy in the Kingdom.
It said the applications of 51,506 party agents and 28,275 reserve party agents have been approved, with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) contributing 46,000 combined observers and reserve observers. Only 14 of the other 19 parties challenging the CPP will be deploying monitors.
The Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), founded by leaders of former civil society organisations, will send 371 observers and reserve observers on July 29, while six parties – New Light Party, Khmer Rise Party, Khmer Republican Party, Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, Dharmacracy Party, and Khmer Will Party – will field none.
GDP secretary-general and spokesperson Sam Inn said his party realised there were challenges in recruiting observers because people were apprehensive about retaliation, and the fact the bureaucratic process to register them was difficult.
“However, we have encouraged our supporters to stay at the ballot stations to monitor the counting and get the results. We also will cooperate with other political parties’ agents to share information,” Inn said.
“We have a system to calculate the results by using a sampling method. Our official agents are sufficient to provide information on results for a sample calculation.
“Despite our relatively low number of agents, we still can know the results through sampling and knowing what is happening on election day,” he said.
Comfrel monitoring coordinator Korn Savang said while he supports having more observers for the election, the number alone won’t give any indication about the health of democracy in Cambodia.
“More participation is a good thing for [an election], but it does not mean that the democratisation process is good. We cannot make that conclusion."
“There are many factors such as the free and fair participation of political parties, fair competition, the participation of people without fear [of violence] … These factors combined with an independent media and other factors are needed to be considered a good process,” Savang said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, when asked about the NEC’s contention that more election observers meant a healthier democratic process, wrote: “It’s more like [the] development towards now defunct … democracy in communist countries.”