Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC approves 8,000 election observers

NEC approves 8,000 election observers

NEC approves 8,000 election observers

The National Election Committee (NEC) has approved 8,000 local election observers

and 90 international election observers ahead of the July 27 general election.

NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said the number of observers - who will monitor the

conduct of the ballot - was requested by 23 local NGOs, the European Union and several

embassies in Phnom Penh including Japan, Australia and the US.

Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh met with the EU's chargé d'affaires,

Winston McColgan, who told him the body wanted to send 60 international observers.

They agreed the team would arrive here in early June.

Ranariddh also said that with just three months to polling day he was encouraged

by the lack of politically-related violence to date.

Hundreds died in the run-up to the two previous elections in 1993 and 1998. Several

people have been victims of suspected political violence so far, including Ranariddh's

senior advisor, Om Radsady, who was shot dead in February.

"So far the situation regarding political violence looks good, so I am not yet

concerned," he told reporters after his meeting on April 22. "There have

only been wars of words."

Ranariddh said the coming election would provide his party with a good opportunity

to restore its political network. In the last election the royalists had only one

month to prepare themselves - high-ranking Funcinpec party members were either killed

or forced to flee in the months following Hun Sen's 1997 coup.

"I think this will give us a better [atmosphere] because the structure of Funcinpec

was almost destroyed before the 1998 election, and I was only allowed to re-enter

the country one month before the vote," he said.

Ranariddh also weighed into the ongoing battle between his party and the SRP for

defectors. He predicted that 100,000 voters who supported the royalists in 1993 then

voted SRP in 1998 would cast their ballots for Funcinpec this time.

However he would not be drawn into predicting how many of the 123 National Assembly

seats he expected his party would win. He said only that Funcinpec had great hopes

as it has had five years to prepare. It won 58 seats in 1993 and 43 in 1998.

He also called on King Norodom Sihanouk, who is currently in Beijing receiving medical

treatment, to return before the vote to ensure stability.

As the weeks tick down to polling day, election monitoring organizations (EMOs) and

other NGOs said they were still concerned that they could be punished for trying

to educate voters. Comfrel's Koul Panha and Nicfec's Hang Puthea both told the Post

that the topic had been discussed at a recent meeting with the NEC.

"NGOs are concerned about the lack of information available to voters, so we

would like to educate voters about the importance of the election," said Panha.

"But if we undertake such activities we could be accused of a political bias

which would mean a fine of between 5-25 million riel and punishment under the Penal

Code."

The NEC's Tep Nytha said his organization was trying to encourage NGOs to educate

voters in an objective manner, and said their fears were misplaced. He said those

who were worried about punishment had misunderstood the NEC's stance.

The NEC also held a meeting on April 19 with representatives of political parties

to discuss party registration and their election campaigns. The NEC appealed to all

parties to submit their applications between April 28 and May 17.

Nytha said that in the interests of transparency, all political parties had to report

the amounts of money earned and spent during their campaigning. However the results

would not be made public.

"The law states that the parties must disclose their bank accounts to the NEC

and reveal the different sources of income that go through any bank recognized by

the National Bank," said Nytha. "The NEC will examine cases where there

are disputes or financial problems."

Representatives from other parties complained that commune and district chiefs had

caused problems for them when they asked for application forms and their candidate

lists.

And the issue of access to media - a consistently controversial topic in previous

elections - was also discussed. Kong Samrech, who represents the Cambodian National

Sustaining Party, asked the NEC to confirm which TV and radio stations were private.

The NEC said all parties would get the same coverage opportunities on state broadcasters.

"We decided to have an equal program for political parties to buy private television

time to explain their political platform for the same price and the same duration,"

said NEC deputy chairman Nge Chhay Leang. "State television will provide equal

time at no cost to all political parties."

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