Hardly anyone wants violence. When British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
lost his cool with a protester during their recent parliamentary election
campaign and ended up throwing a punch at him, the publicity and condemnation
his action prompted was considerable.
But elections do raise emotions
and violence and killings can arise all too easily as we know to our sorrow here
in Cambodia during the elections of 1993 and 1998.
Prescott's punch was
just about the only act of violence in the UK's otherwise peaceful election. Can
Cambodia achieve a similar level of peace in our commune elections early next
year and for our next national elections in 2003? I believe so.
delighted that the NEC and civil society have reached an agreement on the
formation of the Commune Election NGO Co-ordination Committee. That is the first
vital step for free, fair, transparent, and credible and peaceful elections.
Now, together, in the weeks and months before February 3, 2002, they can embark
on the task of promoting education and understanding for everyone. It was, after
all, the lack of election education and the resultant misunderstandings that
contributed to things going wrong after the elections in 1998. Official results
were challenged amid accusations of irregularities and those led to protests and
demonstrations that ended violently. We can learn from the experience. We can
make sure the election process is transparent, satisfying party candidates and
agents, officials, and the general public thus avoiding citizens and police
confronting each other on the streets.
Civil society, through NGOs, plays
a vital part in elections. Their presence in every community at voter
registration sites, polling and counting stations, as neutral observers and
monitors, makes for a transparent, scrupulous process... if they can do their
job properly and command respect all round. Prior to 1998, Cambodian NGOs
challenged for the right to observe elections and to enjoy full protection to do
so. Now they have achieved these rights fully in 2001. And it could make all the
We do have special problems to overcome with our elections
in Cambodia. How do you ensure the election process, from start to finish, is
fair and is seen to be fair? The only way is by complete observation by trained
and trusted independent monitors. We will have 12,400 polling stations open from
6am to 9pm on polling day. The same times will apply on counting day.
civil society needs to find at least 24,800 willing volunteers, two per station,
so that there is always one in attendance, even when the other takes a "natural
break". If there is not continual observation, even a break of a few minutes
would produce scope for suspicion, and then the final results could be brought
But with total observation and the technique of "parallel
vote counting" everyone should accept the electorate's verdict. Parallel
vote-counting involves the NGO observers' tally of voters casting their ballot
before their eyes being matched with the official results posted immediately
after the polls. Provided they agree, the outcome cannot be in doubt. Then if
the two sets of results do not agree, the NEC, unlike in 1998, will have
authoritative documentation on which to base investigations.
observation is therefore the only way to instill full confidence in the election
process as well as to deter any one who may be inclined to cheat. Now the NGOs
face the enormous challenge of mobilizing 24,800 volunteers and training them. I
trust that the international community will help them to do this. The cost of a
domestic observer is a small fraction of an international observer who "at best"
will only visit polling stations.
International observers are essential
for international credibility and they complement and reinforce the domestic
observers, but they can't match local knowledge. The domestic observers are
drawn from the communities in which they live. They must observe at polling
stations where they are registered to vote (so that they too can exercise their
vote). They have clear vested interests in seeing that their families, friends,
and neighbors get the councilors the majority of them vote for.
I see the
days and almost the hours and minutes passing us by as Cambodia moves towards
these elections. Soon we will be where we were back in 1998 with only five
months to go. What a rush that was. These elections will be more complicated
with each commune council having its own party candidates.
I very much
hope that we will have the resources in ample time to do the best job we can. I
appeal to all concerned, all those responsible for allocating money, whether to
the NEC, MoI, political parties, or NGOs, please try your best to disperse it as
soon as possible. With your help we can succeed.
Kassie Neou, Vice Chairman of the National Election Committee.