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More Needed for Free and Fair Elections: Analyst

Lao Monghay, has spent years watching Cambodian politics and was a researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission.
Lao Monghay, has spent years watching Cambodian politics and was a researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Cambodia needs to strengthen its enforcement of election laws if the upcoming polls in 2012 and 2013 are to be considered free and fair, analysts said last week.

“They should be fired from their positions as civil servants if they defy neutrality or act to oppose or support any party,” Lao Monghay, a longtime political analyst who is a monthly guest on “Hello VOA,” said Thursday. “The law prohibits this.”

To be free and fair, he said, elections must show “the real will of the people and voters.”

“And if civil servants act to suppress others, to influence others, to make campaigns to help a political party, or oppose a candidate, that will make a controversy and put pressure on voters,” he said.

Cambodia’s leaders need to remind civil servants to obey the election laws, which stipulate impartiality, he said. Serious fines should be levied on those who break the law, he said.

Opposition parties have rarely accepted the outcomes of past elections, accusing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of using state assets to exert influence over voters. Lao Monghay said that violations of election laws in other countries are punished with serious fines.

Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Cambodia needs independent institutions to ensure neutrality laws are observed during the election process.

Cambodians will go to the polls to elect commune councilors in 2012 and parliamentary members the following year. Civil servants and election officials must remain impartial, he said.

The National Election Committee “must maintain its stance of independence, fairness and impartiality,” he said. “This is necessary to ensure better elections in Cambodia.”

“We should allow winners to win fairly and loser to lose satisfactorily,” he said.

Candidates, too, need some work, Lao Monghay said. They must be capable and not selfish, and work as a “servant” to the people, he said.

“People should demand this because they are the owners of the vote and the power,” he said. People should not simply vote for a candidate who offers them gifts or builds roads, but they should look to those who will be responsible for services like birth and marriage certificates, permission for ceremonies or weddings and other vital functions.

Voter registration began Sept. 1 and ends in most places Oct. 15, except some areas where the process was hampered by severe flooding. Already there have been complaints of irregularities, including registration of minors, double names, “ghost” voters and others.

Lao Monghay said that election officials must work harder to act as “hosts” for registrants.

“If voters can’t find their names, or are changing their address, [election officials] should be instructing them on the norms,” he said. “But do not say, ‘I don’t know.’”

Some registration officials need to be better informed, he said, and others need to form small committees that can go to people’s homes and help them.

“If there are irregularities, they should be solved quickly,” he said. “This helps provide free and fair elections.”