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NGOs fear Kem Ley’s death may affect free elections

Voters queue at a voting station in Battambang province during the 2013 national elections.
Voters queue at a voting station in Battambang province during the 2013 national elections. Scott Howes

NGOs fear Kem Ley’s death may affect free elections

With voter registration for next year’s commune elections due to start in less than two months, the Election Reform Alliance (ERA) is concerned the Sunday murder of political commentator Kem Ley risks jeopardising the electoral process.

The ERA, a collection of NGOs working to strengthen the electoral system, issued a statement yesterday afternoon saying Ley’s death “will have a very big impact on the political process and the upcoming electoral process”.

Koul Panha, head of election watchdog and ERA member Comfrel, said that Ley was a unique figure in Cambodia and he feared next year’s commune elections may lack an informed electorate without him.

“Even people who did not care about politics listened to him, and that starts a discussion about politics,” Panha said. “He tried to inspire people . . . to say, ‘We are the people, we have rights and the power to express an opinion’.”

He added that while Ley’s death had sparked more open discussion about politics among young Cambodians on social media, he worried that the momentum was unsustainable without the man himself.

Moreover, he feared older generations with memories of past violence would now shy away from publicly discussing politics.

San Chey, executive director of transparency NGO ANSA, said he worried Ley’s killing was another nail in the coffin of hopes of legitimate elections.

“There will be an election, but we are not sure that it will be free and fair,” Chey said, adding that Sunday’s murder was just the latest in a series of events stifling political debate.

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