Cambodia’s weekend commune vote, expected to be dominated by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party, has been marred by campaign irregularities despite a general improvement in election conditions from past years, a monitoring organization said Friday.
The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said in a new report that three political parties’ activists were killed during campaigns in the run-up to Sunday’s vote, the country’s third-ever commune-level elections.
The group could not conclude whether the killings of the activists from three opposition parties—the Sam Rainsy Party, the Human Rights Party, and the Norodom Ranariddh Party—were politically motivated, but said the incidents were likely related to the election because they happened during the campaign period.
Comfrel found at least 100 cases of irregularities during the election campaign, including intimidation, vote-buying, and the destruction of parties’ leaflets and logos.
“On the negative side, we have seen that the [ruling] Cambodian People’s Party has used state resources and civil servants to conduct their campaign, and that state control and private media are biased toward the ruling party,” said Comfrel Board of Directors member Thun Saray, who is also the president of the rights watchdog ADHOC.
He added that most political campaign disturbances were committed by members of the ruling party and the victims were mostly activists of the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, the two largest opposition parties.
However, political violence has declined in the election compared to the previous commune-level election in 2007, Comfrel’s report said.
Saray said election conditions in Cambodia are improving, but still flawed.
“This year political parties members are more mature, they didn’t make insults or provocations that led to chaos, and this is a positive side of the campaign,” Thun Saray said.
Earlier in May, Comfrel had also said at least 1.5 million Cambodians will lose their right to vote in the elections due to irregularities in voters’ registration lists.
National Election Committee Deputy Secretary General Tep Nytha rejected the Comfrel report, saying the election campaign went smoothly, with only a few minor incidents of violence or disagreements reported.
“This election campaign is better than the previous election in 2007,” Tep Nytha said.
Cambodia’s first commune-level elections in 2002 were marred by at least two killings that rights groups said were politically motivated.
Following a 15-day campaign period regulated by the National Election Committee, the 10 political parties registered to compete in the country wrapped up their campaigns on Friday.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, deputy chairman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the capital, said his party had seen strong support.
“During the election campaign for the past 15 days, we have received overwhelming support from people in the city,” he said.
“The city residents understand that the CPP is the party that does the work, even if we don’t advertise about this work.”
He added that opposition parties only criticize the government but don’t contribute to the country’s development.
Human Rights Party Spokesman Yem Panharith said that his party’s active campaigning had won them more supporters than before.
“All our political messages, campaign trial activities, and meeting constituencies at the grassroots level make the voters understand the truth, and now they support us even more,” he said.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay said that this year he found people were less afraid to support parties other than the ruling party.
“In general … they are not afraid of joining the party’s campaign, unlike in the previous election,” he said. “But I am afraid of fraud in the election results.”
Phnom Penh Police chief Touch Naruth said even though complaints had been made to the national election body about campaign irregularities, his officers provided good security for all political parties in the city.
Southwest of Phnom Penh, opposition party representatives have expressed concern about the heavy military presence near polling stations in the province of Sihanoukville, where election officials said they plan to deploy between three and four armed officers to provide security at polling stations.
Sihanoukville provincial election committee director Hout Phon said it is important to have armed forces near the polling stations to provide security.
However, the Sam Rainsy Party’s provincial director Ly Dy said armed officers would intimidate the voters, noting that in the previous election armed forces entered the polling stations with weapons.
“People are so afraid. Some of them took gifts from the ruling party, even though they don’t want to vote for the CPP, and when there are armed forces present, they might change their mind,” he said.
The Human Rights Party’s provincial director Ouk Suy said there is no need to have between three and four armed forces personnel at the polling stations.
“The armed forces presence will affect the voters so that they are afraid to vote for change,” he said.
The National Election Committee has issued an order to the armed forces across the country to adhere to their code of conduct and avoid intimidating the voters.
Armed forces are not allowed to publicly show excessive weapons and they may not bring weapons with them into the polling booths or ballot-counting stations.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.