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A way towards free, fair, transparent, credible elections

A way towards free, fair, transparent, credible elections

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.

I am

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

difference.

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.

So

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

into question.

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.

Complete

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.

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