Cambodia’s parliament on Monday amended the law to ban people from associating with anyone convicted of a criminal offense, a move the opposition says aims to hobble rivals of Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of a general election next year. Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) voted to change the election law to ban political parties from engaging with such individuals, who also face bans on participating in politics through images, audio recordings and writing. Political parties which violate the law face a five-year suspension or could be dissolved. The amendment effectively bans former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lives in exile in France to avoid arrest in a number of convictions, from campaigning from abroad for the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Articles about voting issues in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Independent election observers praised Sunday’s running of the nationwide commune elections as largely smooth and peaceful, even while noting a raft of problems, including unauthorized officials at polling sites, intimidated observers and soldiers being brought to vote at some polling stations by the truckload. Dubbed the “Situation Room,” the coalition of NGOs that teamed up to send some 14,000 observers across the country described the voting as “smooth, safe and peaceful” but marred by “some minor irregularities.” Recounting one of the day’s most flagrant breaches, Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said 12 observers across two communes in Kandal province’s Loeuk Dek district were pressured into abandoning their duties by local authorities.
Cambodia’s opposition made significant gains in local elections against the ruling party of authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday, according to the first results. The election for more than 1,600 communes would not mean a major shift in power, but could be a springboard for next year’s general election, in which Hun Sen aims to extend more than three decades in power in the Southeast Asian country. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won 11 out of the first 80 communes for which results were declared. In the last local election, the ruling Cambodia National Rescue Party won 97 percent against a divided opposition.
To vote or not to vote. For many of Cambodia’s saffron-robed Buddhist monks, it’s a difficult question. On one hand, activism among monks has a long tradition, from helping create a strong Khmer national identity during colonial rule, to leading the drive for independence in the 20th century, to protesting with the urban and rural poor in their land rights battles. On the other hand, as one of Cambodia’s top monks, Tep Vong has repeatedly said that monks should be a neutral force in an effort to protect the national religion’s hallowed image. At Wat Langka, one of Phnom Penh’s oldest pagodas, near Independence Monument, a respected veteran monk said he had never voted in his birth country.
Transparency International has pledged a rapid assessment of potential irregularities in Sunday’s commune elections by sending 1,100 observers across Cambodia—including, if needed, by boat and helicopter. At a news conference in Phnom Penh on Monday, Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said USAID had donated nearly $200,000 to fund the Election Day operations, in which a sample of 410 polling stations out of 22,148 would be observed. The plan was to produce a report more quickly than other organizations carrying out comprehensive assessments, Mr. Kol said.
Rectifying one of the greatest sources of outrage and discontent surrounding previous elections, the voter list compiled for upcoming commune elections has passed an audit with flying colors, though commentators remain skeptical as to whether the country will actually witness free and fair elections on June 4. The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) on Tuesday published its full report on the completely remade voter list, following the NGO coalition’s release of a summary at a news conference last week. “This audit found that there are significant improvements on the quality of the 2016 voter list in its completeness, currency, and accuracy compared with the previous voter list,” Comfrel’s report says.
The Minister of Cults and Religion has agreed to review laws governing the issuance of identification cards to monks which, in its current state, limits their right to vote. After answering questions at the National Assembly’s seventh commission, minister Him Chhem said they will be working on the various issues raised, including the development of the National Buddhist Institution, the expansion of the Buddhist University and the wages of monks. “We understand each other [in the meeting]. I have my report. We will solve the remaining problems gradually. We have measures to solve it,” he briefly said to reporters yesterday without elaborating on any of the issues raised in the assembly.
The National Election Committee (NEC) says it will consider prolonging voter registration in some areas only if it’s needed as compiling this year’s voter list ends in two weeks. Voter registration is changing from a manual to a computer system. Registration started on September 1 for next year’s commune elections and the national election in 2018. The process ends on November 29. Hang Puthea, a spokesman for the NEC, said yesterday that the organization’s top officials are going to the 25 provincial capitals to discover the challenges which have cut the rate of registrations from 70,000 in a day to below 30,000.
Young potential voters who have migrated abroad in search of work are facing the loss of their voting rights due to a lack of information and documents required to register to vote from a location different to their registered address, civil society groups said yesterday. During a workshop on “The Challenges and Solutions: Voter Registration for Youth,” in Phnom Penh, Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-Center) said that according to their data, many youths were unaware of how to register to vote in next year’s commune elections. “Youths are more than half of the country’s citizens, some of whom are migrants working in foreign countries and are facing the loss of their right to vote if they do not go to register. This is a concern as there might be a problem for the democratic process if the youth do not participate.”
As Cambodian officials rolled out a new voter registration system on Thursday, questions were raised about the nation’s ability to conduct free and fair elections. While Cambodian authorities announced a three-month registration process that will run from Sept. 1 to Nov. 29, the U.N. ambassador to Cambodia expressed concern that the country’s current political situation could poison the process. “The European Union has expressed concerns over certain actions of the authorities in implementing legal procedures against the opposition party’s officials, civil society’s representatives, and the National Election Commission (NEC) deputy general secretary,” said Ambassador George Edgar. “Cambodia’s authorities must ensure an atmosphere that all political parties and nongovernmental agencies are able to do their jobs without obstacles,” he added during a ceremony announcing the launch of the registration system.