Cambodia may plunge into violence if it does not reform the current electoral system to allow for fair and free elections, Surya Subedi, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, has warned in a report.
He said there are "major flaws" in the administration of elections in Cambodia and called for "urgent and longer-term reforms" needed to give Cambodians confidence in the electoral process and in the National Election Committee (NEC), which organizes and manages polls.
"It is regrettable," he said, that most of the proposals by bilateral and multilateral agencies to reform the electoral process based on shortcomings identified in previous elections "remain unimplemented" by the Cambodian authorities.
In a report to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva at its upcoming September meeting, Subedi said that he is "concerned by the capacity gaps that persist in the electoral process."
"If the electoral process is unable to command the trust and confidence of the electorate, the very foundation of the Cambodian political and constitutional architecture embodied in the Paris Peace Agreements will be shaken and the country may run the risk of a return to violence," he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen's government "must therefore do its utmost to avoid such a situation," he said in the report released this week.
Subedi also called for a "political solution" to enable exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia "to play a full role" in politics.
Saying that Sam Rainsy has been convicted on charges that are allegedly politically motivated, Subedi added that "a concerted effort by the ruling and opposition parties towards reconciliation is in the interests of stronger and deeper democratization of Cambodia," especially ahead of the 2013 elections.
Sam Rainsy, who is currently involved in efforts to merge Cambodia’s two key opposition parties into a united alliance against Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), went into exile in 2009 after leading a border protest and was convicted in absentia on charges of incitement and damaging property.
He has called his conviction groundless and unacceptable.
Subedi's proposal for electoral reforms was shrugged off by the national electoral body.
Tep Nitha, General Secretary of the NEC, said on Tuesday that Subedi’s report "sounds like he is only listening to the opposition party and certain NGOs rather than reflecting the NEC’s current work."
Tep Nitha claimed that Subedi’s recommendations had effectively been implemented, including the part about making the electoral panel independent and autonomous and a guarantor of voters’ rights.
He said Sam Rainsy's absence "will not affect the process of the elections and democracy in Cambodia.”
But the Executive Director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), Koul Panha, stressed that all of Subedi’s recommendations "are vital and necessary" for electoral reforms.
"And the most urgent and immediate reform to be done prior to the national election in 2013 is the full guarantee of voters’ rights," he said.
In his report, Subedi cited a host of issues that needed to be addressed before parliamentary elections scheduled in July 2013. Among them:
== The NEC should have independent and autonomous status in the constitutional and legal structure of Cambodia, with its own independent budget allocated by the parliament.
== There should be consensus among the major political parties represented in the parliament on the appointment of the president and members of the NEC and the provincial election committees.
== There is a need to amend the law and to create another institution, such as a special election tribunal or election court within the judicial structure of Cambodia or a special election tribunal within the National Constitutional Council to resolve election-related disputes, rather than using the NEC itself to do so.
== All major political parties should have fair and equal access to the mass media to convey their messages to the electorate.
== All opposition parties must be free to organize and campaign without fear and hindrance. The Special Rapporteur "has been informed of cases of harassment and intimidation of people attending party political meetings of opposition parties by government officials and the secret police."
== There should be a more effective, impartial and nondiscriminatory procedure for the registration of voters in Cambodia.
Subedi also cited a petition directed to him from a Cambodian citizen who had expressed "frustration with the existing electoral process."
The Cambodian wrote that "if the current state of affairs continued, the ruling party would win the elections forever and that there was no hope for other political parties."
Reported by Neang Ieng for RFA's Khmer service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.