The Cambodian government should rescind its recent order restricting independent election monitoring groups, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 4, 2017, a month after the country’s flawed commune elections, the Interior Ministry issued a letter to two election-monitoring organizations to cease their activities in alleged violation of the country’s nongovernmental organization law. The government’s action sets the stage for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to broaden restrictions on election monitoring prior to the 2018 national elections. “The Cambodian government appears intent on quashing any challenges to its political control – and obviously doesn’t want any witnesses,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Cambodia’s donors should call for the government to rescind these orders and ensure independent monitoring of the 2018 elections.”
The July 4 notice sanctions the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) on the basis that their election-monitoring consortium, the Situation Room, “does not reflect the neutrality” mandated by the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO).
The notice suggests that LANGO will become a more prominent tool in the government’s campaign against critics, civil society groups, and other perceived threats to its rule, particularly as next year’s elections draw near.
The Situation Room – a consortium of 40 Cambodian civil society groups collaborating on neutral, impartial, and independent election observation – released a final assessment of the commune elections on June 24 that identified serious election flaws, including an environment of intimidation and a lack of campaign finance transparency. While noting improvements in areas such as voter registration, the report concluded that “elections in Cambodia cannot yet be considered fully free and fair.”