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Watchdog cites political environment for decision not to act as monitor

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Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre) inks his index finger as his wife Bun Rany (centre left) votes at a polling station during the 2013 general election in Kandal province. afp

Watchdog cites political environment for decision not to act as monitor

Transparency International Cambodia (TI) announced on Wednesday that it will not be monitoring the upcoming national elections.

This development follows prominent election watchdogs the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) and the Neutral and Impartial Committee on Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) deciding not to register observers with the National Election Committee (NEC) for the July 29 poll.

“The political environment and conditions during the months leading up to the July 29 election make it impossible for TI Cambodia to mobilise enough resources to monitor the polls and contribute to the electoral process in a meaningful way,” a TI press release read.

However, a respected political analyst said he thought the decision was a result of the dissolution of the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party in November, as the polls would from then on be considered “unfair”.

TI had engaged in electoral reforms and in monitoring the 2013 national election and last year’s communal election in order to help assure integrity and transparency in the Kingdom’s election process.

Election law expert Yoeurng Sotheara said: “We used to have many civil society groups engaging in election monitoring for many elections, and now many credible civil societies are boycotting election [monitoring]. It is likely TI had already made the decision to boycott the elections after the dissolution of the CNRP as it would thereafter be considered an unfair election.

“It is their decision to not take part. Maybe [it was one made after an] evaluation of the current political situation – one very different from previous elections.

“TI would likely find it hard to [justify] to the public and international community if they were to engage in an election held under such circumstances.

“It is a blow to the election for TI to not participate,” he said, noting the earlier decisions of Comfrel and Nicfec. “This is bound to affect the credibility of the upcoming elections.”

Preap Kol, TI Cambodia’s executive director, expressed pride in his organisation’s capacity to be accurate and professional in monitoring previous elections, using the statistical Sample Based Observation (SBO) method, the results of which proved acceptable to all parties and the public.

“TI Cambodia has built its capacity and expertise in monitoring elections in order to promote integrity and transparency in electoral processes and address the issue of political corruption. So we regret that we are unable to make use of our skills and expertise due to the reason given,” he said via email.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government has said it will send two groups of observers to monitor the election.

On Tuesday, the newly appointed Indonesian ambassador to Cambodia, Pitono Purnomo, met with the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn, according to government media outlet Agence Kampuchea Press.

“Indonesia will dispatch two groups of observers, who are dignitaries, for the National Election in Cambodia to be held on July 29, 2018,” AKP reported.

The Indonesian Embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached for further information on Wednesday.

Further adding to a perceived deterioration in Cambodian politics after the CNRP’s disbanding, New Zealand voiced concerns regarding democracy, human rights and the freedom of information in the Kingdom at the ongoing 38th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.

New Zealand’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Jarrod Clyne said: “An electoral process from which the main democratic opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded cannot be considered genuine or guarantee the free expression of the will of the voters,” Clyne said.

In response to the claim, Ney Sam Ol, Cambodian ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, said Clyne’s comments were made to ruin Cambodia’s reputation and accomplishments, and held a hidden agenda.

Clyne continued that Cambodia was on a path that threatened to reverse the developments in its democracy, which had progressed for 27 years since the signing of 1991 Paris Peace Accords.

He noted three main areas of concern – the recent passing of the lèse majesté law, intimidation of journalists and media organisations, and the use of judicial proceedings to target dissent and political opposition – moves which have forced many in opposition parties and civil organisations to flee the country for fear of arrest, physical harassment and intimidation.

Clyne called on the Cambodian government to release former CNRP leader Kem Sokha and all other political prisoners without condition; reinstate the CNRP and allow its 118 party members participate in politics; repeal recent amendments to the Constitution and other laws that are inconsistent with Cambodia’s human rights obligations; stop harassing members of the political opposition, journalists and civil society; refrain from interning in court cases; ensure the full independence of the judiciary branch; and create an environment suitable for a vibrant, free and independent local media.

Sam Ol accused the New Zealand representative’s statements as holding “a hidden agenda to discredit the outstanding achievements of the Cambodian government”.

“Therefore, they have no hesitation in undermining the UN Council by using it as a political tool to meddle in Cambodia’s July 29 elections,” he said.

Sam Ol questioned criticism of the upcoming elections, comparing them to those of 1993, when 20 political parties also registered and which were hailed a success by the international community.

“In 1993, there were 20 political parties – the same number as those participating [next month] – and the majority of them were small and newly created, and one of them did join the election, but the international community and UN wholeheartedly recognised its result as free and fair,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the same is not true when it comes to next month’s election which is quite identical to that of 1993. Why? Because double standards and hypocrisy have been applied by some governments towards the Cambodian elections [sic].”

Sam Ol also called the request for the release of Sokha and other political prisoners “confusing and contradictory”.

“[New Zealand] calls on the [Cambodian] government not to intervene in court cases, but yet at the same it calls on the government to release particular detainees whose cases are in court proceedings,” he said.

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