The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday sought to deflect criticism that the ruling party invited election observers of questionable credibility to rubber-stamp election results, as other monitors held training sessions around the country in preparation for the June 4 commune elections.
On Sunday, academics Maria Debre and Lee Morgenbesser published a new paper online in which they claim that certain “autocratic regimes” are using “shadow election observation groups as part of a mock compliance strategy”.
The paper uses Cambodia’s 2013 election – in which observers from the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) declared the ballot free and fair – as an example of a regime using unqualified observers to rubber-stamp an election’s legitimacy.
In a statement yesterday, the MoFA confirmed that the ICAPP will once again supply election observers for the upcoming poll, claiming that the organisation had a “long history of democracy”.
“Denying the legitimacy of this political grouping in observing election in Cambodia . . . is tantamount to denying democratic progress in its members and the Asian region as well,” the statement reads.
However Debre, a political scholar from the Berlin Graduate School of Transnational Studies, and Morgenbesser, a research fellow at Australia’s Griffith University specialising in authoritarian regimes, write that the ICAPP has “a long and amicable association” with the CPP.
Meanwhile, Transparency International Cambodia (TIC) and other monitors continued to prepare for the election yesterday.
During a TIC seminar at Hun Sen Champuvoin High School in Phnom Penh yesterday, observers were taught a code of ethics and given a “checklist” of factors to observe on election day. For example, every trainee must report to TIC’s central command that they and the polling station officials are in position at 6:15am.
At 8:30am, they must send a message reporting how many election officials are present, how many ballots are present, whether or not the ballot box is empty and whether the voting booth is sufficiently private.
Teang Samang, a 35-year-old tuk-tuk driver who attended the training in Phnom Penh, said he just wants a fair election.
“After the election, parties always complain, and therefore I want to see whether it is true . . . I don’t have any connection with a political party,” he said.
TIC Director Preap Kol, who led another training session in Kampong Cham yesterday, said the group would deploy 1,100 observers nationwide.
“We consider election fraud, vote-buying or major election irregularities as part of political corruption . . . TI has a mandate to promote transparency and integrity,” Kol added.
Sotheara Yoeurng, monitoring officer at election watchdog Comfrel, said his organisation has a similar checklist to ensure that each polling station met the standards set by the National Election Committee (NEC).
“We plan to deploy at least one election observer per polling station,” or more than 10,000 observers,” Yoeurng said.
When asked about the ICAPP observers, Yoeurng said they were less reliable than other independent observers and employed for politically motivated reasons.
“They come only one day or two days and declare the election free and fair without studying . . . They come to provide legitimacy and a counterbalance” to other, more stringent, observers, he said.