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Pre-election intimidation fears

Pre-election intimidation fears

Election monitoring NGOs, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, and smaller political

parties have expressed fears that the lead-up to next year's general election will

see increased violence, killings and vote-buying.

Hang Dara, leader of the newly formed Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party, said,

"pre-election intimidation has already begun in eight provinces".

On August 7, he said, four members of his party were threatened by the commune chief

of the ruling Cambodian People's Party in Peam Ro commune, Prey Veng province. He

said photos for party supporter ID cards were confiscated and the four were warned

to cease political activities.

Phi Thach, chief of cabinet at the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, claimed that the

killing of a party member in Takeo province last month was "the usual intimidation

from the ruling party" and meant to show opposition members their lives were

at risk.

"As we are on the verge of an election, this killing is a significant message

to the members of the SRP," he said.

The UN's human rights office confirmed it had recently received reports of crimes

including killings involving party activists, and was investigating. Spokesperson

Francesca Marotta said the UN was still following up unresolved cases from the commune

elections.

"We will also continue to monitor reports of serious election-related or potentially

election-related human rights violations in the run-up to the next election,"

she said.

Kek Galabru, president of election monitor NICFEC, said her organization was "monitoring

carefully." She said election-related violence had started one year before the

1998 national elections, and "very early" in the lead-up to the commune

elections held earlier this year.

The UN human rights office noted 17 killings or suspicious deaths in the thirteen

months preceding the February 2002 commune elections. It also recorded more than

300 cases of human rights violations between June 2001 and election day that were

"likely to be related to the election process".

"Based on past experiences from the 1992-93, 1998 and the 2002 elections we

are really afraid we are going to have more violence, intimidation and killings,"

Galabru said. "Right now the [election] law is not finalized - after the National

Assembly adopts the law it will be enforced and the process of the election will

start."

The draft amendments to the election law, which is before the National Assembly,

would give the Ministry of Interior the authority to select a new five member National

Election Committee (NEC). Many observers are concerned this may affect public perception

of the NEC's independence.

Galabru said there would be problems if people lacked trust in the reformed NEC.

"For the elections to be seen as free and fair by the Cambodian people, the

NEC needs to be independent," she said.

Election observers all expected that the practice of vote-buying, which is illegal

under the election laws governing the commune elections and the 1998 general election,

would increase significantly before next year's national ballot. A NICFEC report

on the commune elections noted evidence of illegal vote-buying by the three major

parties.

Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay predicted the general election would be characterized

by vote-buying.

"It will not reflect the wish and will of the people because money will affect

them," he said. "The CPP learned quite well that vote buying is very successful.

It costs just a bag of rice and 1,000 riel."

Galabru agreed that vote-buying had occurred in the last two elections and would

be a factor.

"I'm afraid there is no financial equality between the parties. Some have a

lot of financial resources so it is not equal," she said. "Unequal access

to the media is also a concern."

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said "the degree

of violence" had not yet started, but his organization was concerned about limitations

to freedom of expression.

"Recently we observed the government has tried to control the print media, especially

the opposition newspapers," he said.

Several human rights workers expressed concern the government might use the excuse

of the US-based Kampuchea Krom National Liberation Front, which calls for the "liberation"

of southern Vietnam, to crack down on political opponents.

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