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US, France Call for Election Reforms Ahead of July Polls

Cambodian Buddhist monk, right, casts his ballot in local elections at Wat Than pagoda's polling station in Phnom Penh, file photo.
PHNOM PENH - The United States and France both say they want to see more reforms to the election process, as Cambodia moves toward parliamentary polls in July.

Opposition officials say the process is heavily skewed in favor of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and election monitors say this year’s elections risk illegitimacy.

US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh told VOA Khmer the US is now urging Cambodia to embrace reforms recommended by the UN’s special rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi. Subedia has said the National Election Committee must make changes to level the political playing field and that opposition leader Sam Rainsy should be allowed to return to Cambodia to contest the elections.

Sam Rainsy, who has been named the president of the new Cambodia National Rescue Party, remains in exile abroad, facing imprisonment on charges he says are politically motivated if he returns to Cambodia. Opposition lawmakers have continued to call on international assistance in assuring legitimate elections for the July 28 polls.

“The United States believes that free and fair elections require a level-playing field and the unfettered participation of opposition parties,” McIntosh told VOA-Khmer via email. “The exclusion of one of the leading opposition leaders calls into question the legitimacy of the democratic process in Cambodia.”

Nicolas Baudouin, spokesman for the French Embassy, said the international community has attached “particular importance to the elections” in July. “It is in Cambodia’s interest that all political persuasions can express themselves,” he said in an e-mail.

Cambodian officials say it is not possible for Sam Rainsy to return for the election.

Tep Nitha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee, told VOA Khmer Sam Rainsy’s exclusion from the voter registration was “irreversible.” Meanwhile, the charges against him make him ineligible to run for office.

Sam Rainsy was found guilty on a number of charges related to the destruction of border markers near Vietnam in 2009.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan told VOA Khmer that Cambodia “should not be forced to respect an individual rather than the law.”

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, told VOA Khmer the charges were “a matter of politics” and that Sam Rainsy’s exclusion from the process could damage the legitimacy of the elections.