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Pressure Mounts for Cambodian Election Reform

Cambodian Buddhist monk, right, casts his ballot in local elections at Wat Than pagoda's polling station in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Cambodian Buddhist monk, right, casts his ballot in local elections at Wat Than pagoda's polling station in Phnom Penh, file photo.
PHNOM PENH, WASHINGTON DC - Two election monitoring groups have added their voice to growing pressure for election reforms of the government’s National Election Committee, telling reporters in Phnom Penh Thursday that the country risks low voter turnout and eroded confidence if it continues on its path to the July polls.

“We wish to express our concerns over the lack of transparency on preparation for the election, as well as poor management of the recruitment and selection of the members of the election committee at all levels, which led to a loss of voting rights of the eligible voters,” the Committee for Free and Fair Election and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections said in a statement Thursday.

The groups said they are also concerned with the absence of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who remains in exile and faces imprisonment should he return to Cambodia on charges he says are politically motivated.

The groups called on the NEC to reform the way it validates voter registrations, so that residents who have not been able to register can do so now before the July 27 election. They also want to see more participation from opposition and smaller parties as voting station chiefs across the country’s communes, where voting is held.

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc and head of Comfrel’s board, said Cambodia faces the possibility of losing the public trust if it does not hold credible elections in July. That could mean a public that does not accept the election results, he told reporters.

A recent study by the US-based National Democratic Institute found only about 64 percent of those surveyed had actually registered to vote, including about 11 percent who were not registered but thought that they had.

Meanwhile, a US-based political analyst says the international community and Cambodia’s opposition should draw a “red line” for election reforms.

“The NEC is just a political tool of the ruling party,” Kuch Schanley, a community activist, told “Hello VOA” Monday.

NEC officials have repeatedly denied they favor the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, but critics say their regulations, practices and even voter registries are all skewed against the opposition.

“The Cambodian government does not pay attention to what its people want,” Kuch Schanley said. “This is obviously a clear indication of what a dictatorial regime is.”