Smaller parties running in the Kingdom’s upcoming national elections have complained of difficulties in finding enough representatives to monitor polling stations come July 29.
Election monitoring organisations the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia, (Nicfec) said in May that they will not be monitoring polling stations on July 29.
They cited a lack of volunteers resulting from the fear of being accused by the government of being part of a “colour revolution” or rebel group.
This leaves only the National Election Committee (NEC) at hand to oversee voting at a large number of the nation’s polling stations.
An NEC official said it was a matter for each party to supply independent monitors at the stations, with the registration for election agents to begin on Tuesday and end on July 5.
Som Sorida, the deputy secretary-general of the NEC, said there will be nearly 23,000 polling stations nationwide for the elections, and agreed it could be an obstacle for some parties.
However, he said that it was nonetheless something for each party to overcome.
“It is the right for all parties to have monitors at each one. But some political parties do not have the ability to assign agents to all 22,967 polling stations. This is not the NEC’s concern, but that of the parties because we [the NEC] will implement our procedures transparently. What we do will be under the scrutiny of political parties, election observers and the media,” he said.
With agent registration approaching, some political parties expressed concerns that unlike major parties, being unable to deploy agents at all polling stations they will have to depend solely on the NEC for election monitoring at most of the stations after civil society organisations withdrew as observers.
Sin Sovannarith, the secretary-general of the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, said it has registered candidates to stand in 25 constituencies. But while it has managed to find enough candidates, financial and human resource shortages will prevent his party from sending agents to monitor voting in all constituencies.
“Election observation requires each party to provide one agent and one reserve agent, so the number of agents will be in the tens of thousands. We lack human resources to do this,” he said.
The Our Motherland Party (OMP), which is standing in six constituencies, also said it does not expect to find enough agents and expects to rely on civil society organisations to observe at stations it cannot send agents to.
OMP’s deputy director, Him Sokunthy, said her party is having difficulty finding agents. She claimed that the hiring of election agents is more difficult than finding candidates because observers require recognition from the commune hall.
“The members want to help us, but they are scared that if we select them, we have to get recognition from the commune hall, and they are worried that representing a party different to that of the commune chief may lead to negative treatment in the future ,” she said.
However, Sokunthy expressed faith in the NEC to do its job objectively. “We will have to depend on other organisations in a lot of cases, but I think the NEC will adhere to its conscience and act fairly.”
Nicfec Director Sam Kuntheamy said having party agents at all polling stations was very important as they have the right to file complaints of irregularity, which observers from civil society organisations do not.
“Being political party agents is a most important task because they are duty-bound to protect the interests of their party. They go to polling stations to count the ballots and they check whether the election process has any irregularities. But civil society observers do not have the right to file complaints,” he said.
The Kingdom’s smaller parties have also complained at the price of hiring airtime on Cambodia’s private media during the July 7- 27 election campaigning period.
This is because the Cambodian Broadcasting Services (CBS), which owns CTN, MyTV, CNC, and One TV television stations, announced last week that airtime for political parties will cost a minimum of $500 per minute.
It said airtime will rise to $700 per minute at prime time. The price excludes production costs.
“In buying airtime, the company requires political parties to sign up for no less than 20 minutes. And the company reserves the right to sell airtime to the parties that contact us early,” the letter said.
On Monday, sales staff at CBS said no political party had contacted them regarding airtime as yet.
Cambodian Youth Party President Pich Sros said his party did not have the budget for political broadcasts on television.
“We don’t have the funds to buy airtime because our party is new, and our budget is not huge. We will do what we can,” he said, adding that it would campaign largely on social media, through a community outreach, and airtime given to them by the NEC.
Kuntheamy said political parties have the right to ask the NEC to help negotiate the price.
“If it is very expensive, the NEC can negotiate. It is not normal that when election campaigning comes round airtime prices jump. The NEC can check whether the price is high and political parties can ask the NEC to intervene,” he said.
Khmer Rise Party President Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung said Cambodians viewed national television broadcasters as biased. “I won’t campaign this way because I am not interested in this format and the people don’t trust it much either,” he said. “They don’t watch TV. I don’t want to campaign on networks that we know are biased and not trusted by the people.”
Spokespersons for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party could not be reached for comment.
However, the party spent more than $500,000 on the final day of commune elections campaigning last year. It hired eight TV stations to broadcast live a rally held by Prime Minister Hun Sen at a cost of $300 per minute.