With the absence of independent election monitors like Comfrel and Nicfec, Sunday’s Senate elections will be monitored by a hodgepodge of associations, with some representing the pharmacy, travel and hospitality industries, and another run by Hun Many, son of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The country’s commune councillors and National Assembly members will vote on Sunday for the body’s 58 members, with the assembly and King Norodom Sihamoni selecting two more candidates each. The elections are being contested by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Khmer National United Party, Cambodian Youth Party and Funcinpec.
According to the National Election Committee, 12 organisations had applied to monitor the polls, with all of them admitted. Longtime election watchdogs Comfrel and Nicfec did not apply.
When asked about the credibility of the approved institutions and the absence of seasoned monitors, NEC spokesman Dim Sovannarom said any NGO that expressed interest was accepted.
“For the non-election [Senate polls], the national and international observers have less interest than the national election,” he said.
Sovannarom added that international observers can still register until Friday, though European Union Ambassador George Edgar said no monitors would be deployed since there were no civilian voters. A US Embassy spokesman confirmed it would not observe the voting.
The upcoming elections are expected to be a clean sweep for the ruling party if votes go along party lines. The only way the three smaller parties could win any seats is if either King Sihamoni or the National Assembly grant them, or if CPP members abstain en masse or vote against their own party.
Of the 276 monitors, Hun Many’s Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, a pro-government youth group, will have 80 volunteers spread across 23 provinces, with the group having provided around 30,000 volunteers for last year’s commune elections.
The Cambodian Democratic Student Intellectual Federation, a pro-government NGO, will have the highest number of volunteers, at 93, across the country. Following the contentious 2013 national polls, the group strongly supported the provisional results and asked both major parties to accept the mandate to maintain political stability.
Four groups – the Association of Pharmaceutical Sales, Investor Federal Association, Youth for Cambodian Economy Association and the Federal Association of Tourism and Hospitality Cambodia – are affiliated with CPP supporter Ley Sopheap, who heads at least three of the organisations. Sopheap did not respond to requests for comment.
Sam Kuntheamy, head of Nicfec, said the group did not partake in part due to funding issues. “We have no budget. We used to get budget from NDI [National Democratic Institute] and European Union and they shut down their funding,” he said. NDI was shut down as part of a wider crackdown that saw media outlets closed and a handful of NGOs threatened.
Political commentator Lao Mong Hay said the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party had rendered the elections meaningless, which could have dampened the interest, or willingness, of credible NGOs. “For specialist associations, maybe they don’t have aid for monitoring, or they don’t want to monitor elections that have no meaning,” he said.