Top officials from the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s (RAC) International Relations Institute, along with various non-governmental organisations, have expressed differing views over the international observers’ claim that the general election, which took place on July 23, was orderly, transparent, and fair.
Kin Phea, the director of the RAC’s International Relations Institute, has echoed the international observers’ positive assessment of the general election. He underscored that the electoral process aligned with the populace’s desires and demonstrated the democratic maturity Cambodia has cultivated over the past three decades.
“In essence, the international observers have rightly pointed out the reality unfolding during the election,” Phea said.
“The election was conducted with fairness and justice. The citizens were granted the freedom to cast their votes devoid of any coercive forces,” he added.
Phea further emphasised the critical role of international observers in validating the integrity of the Cambodian electoral process. These observers, he said, act as heralds to the global community, testifying to Cambodia’s strides in the democratic process.
In contrast, Korn Savang, the monitoring and advocacy coordinator for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), underscored that each country employs unique democratic principles when evaluating an electoral process.
Savang remarked that some international observers’ final statements reflect the standards set by their respective countries.
At this juncture, COMFREL has yet to evaluate the recent electoral process, but Savang did express concerns regarding certain shortcomings in this year’s election.
“There were instances of local village-commune authorities appearing at polling stations to register voters, and party agents were noted taking a roll call of their members,” he revealed.
Savang also voiced concern over restricted practices at some polling stations during the vote count.
According to him, some stations prohibited observers from photographing the process, and others even closed their doors and windows, refusing to display the 1102 ballot count report.
Soeung Sen Karuna, a spokesman for human rights group Adhoc, raised concerns about potential negative reactions from the international community due to perceived unfairness in the election process. Such reactions could adversely impact Cambodia’s economy, trade, and diplomatic relations.
Karuna has refrained from passing judgement on the 2023 general election process.
On another note, Muth Chantha, a former senior official of the long-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has openly expressed discontent with the international observers’ assessment.
“Observers’ assessments based solely on election day are misguided, leading to the inaccurate conclusion of a free, fair, and credible election process,” Chantha wrote on his preferred social media platform.
He argued that for a more accurate appraisal, the evaluation must be conducted over multiple stages.
Nevertheless, international observers who were present at the July 23 election remarked, “The election was free, fair, transparent, confidential and credible.”
The Elections Commission of Maldives, which participated in the election observation, issued a statement affirming the fairness, confidentiality, and credibility of Cambodia’s elections.
“We bore witness to the sincere intentions of voters who peacefully exercised their democratic rights,” the statement read.
Other observers, such as the Committee for ASEAN Youth Cooperation (CAYC) and the Asian Youth Council (AYC), commended Cambodia’s election process, lauding the 2023 general election as “transparent, peaceful, free and fair”.
This year’s legislative election saw the participation of 334 international observers from 65 countries, alongside nearly 90,000 national observers, solidifying the international interest in Cambodia’s democratic journey.