IRI: Improvements Are Needed in Cambodia’s Voter Registration Process

Phnom Phen, Cambodia – IRI conducted the first in its series of three pre-election assessment missions on January 19-24.  The assessment mission was led by former U.S. Ambassador John Malott; IRI Board Member and Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board Member Cheryl Halpern; and David Merkel, former U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee senior staff member.  These assessments will help Cambodian officials to eliminate many of the problems faced in previous elections and to meet international standards in conducting the upcoming parliamentary elections in July.

The following is a statement issued by the delegates upon the end of their assessment mission on Friday, January 24.

“The integrity of the registration process is an important measure of the fairness of an election.  This year, an additional one to two million voters are reported to be eligible for registration.  IRI’s direct observation corroborates press reports that a number of new voters have faced delays and impediments as they attempt to register.  IRI has observed that local officials fail to adhere to consistent standards from one commune to another.  This problem was most acute in determining standards of identification required for voters to register.

“Another area where commune officials do not act using uniform standards is in determining when and where registration officials will move from the commune office to mobile voter registration sites.  While IRI applauds efforts to reach voters wherever they may be, the dates and locations for mobile registration must be more effectively standardized and publicized.  Other commune offices have abruptly closed their doors or have failed to inform local citizens of their schedules.

“Cambodia’s political environment, in IRI’s judgment, still is not free and is marked in many areas by a climate of fear and intimidation.  In the year that has passed following commune elections, more than 10 Cambodian political activists have been murdered across the country in acts that appear to be politically motivated, according to Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Center for Human Rights.  These murders have had a chilling effect on the ability of political activists to organize and have discouraged the participation of citizens in the political process.

“IRI is also deeply concerned about restricted access to the broadcast media.  State media continues to be a promotional vehicle for the ruling party, while coverage of independent and opposition activities is almost nonexistent.  Television and radio frequencies continue to be restricted to pro-government broadcasters while independent and opposition voices are kept from the airwaves.  The delegation believes that fair access to the media is a key factor in determining the credibility of Cambodia’s parliamentary elections.

“The national parliamentary elections, to be held in July 2003, present a clear opportunity for the government of Cambodia to demonstrate to the Cambodian people and the international community that the problems and irregularities that occurred in past elections have been corrected and that the election process that begins with voter registration this month will be carried out in a free and fair manner.  There is still time to correct the deficiencies identified by IRI in this first pre-election assessment.”

The IRI delegation met with His Majesty the King, Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Interior Minister, the National Election Committee chairman, the secretaries general of the Cambodian People’s Party and of Funcinpec, the leader of Cambodia’s parliamentary opposition, and major election and human rights ogranizations.  IRI deployed 14 credentialed election observers in five teams to Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Kampong Cham, Prey Veng, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap to observe voter registration. They also met with officials from political parties, commune councils, provincial election secretariats, civil society organizations, and with voters, including Buddhist monks.

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