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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cambodia's Poll 'Did Not Meet Key International Standards'

Cambodian women stand in line to vote outside a polling station in Kampong Cham province north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Cambodia's Poll 'Did Not Meet Key International Standards'

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Despite improvements in electoral processes, Cambodia's recent election was flawed and did not meet key standards, international monitors said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 59.6 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, compared with nearly 21 percent for the nearest rival, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, according to a partial count by Cambodian electoral authorities.

But the poll was marred by the CPP's domination of media coverage, the improper deletion of people from registration lists so they could not vote, and other irregularities, said a preliminary report by 130 European Union election monitors.

"While the campaign was generally conducted in a more peaceful and open environment compared to previous elections, the 2008 National Assembly Elections have fallen short of a number of key international standards for democratic elections," said Martin Callanan, who led the EU observers.

"Ultimately, it's up to the Cambodian people to accept or reject the results," Callanan said, adding that the EU would issue a more detailed report with recommendations in October.

The Asian Network For Free Elections (ANFREL) called for an investigation and "a serious penalty" for manipulation of the vote.

"The election was maybe free, but not fair at all," said Somsri Hananuntasuk, head of ANFREL's election monitoring mission to Cambodia.

The main problem was people being deleted from voter lists, while there also needed to be limits on campaign financing and the ruling party's control of media, she said.

The EU calculated that 50,000 voters were left off rolls, but Callanan said that would not have greatly affected the election since early results show a large majority for the CPP.

"Any irregularities that were proved would clearly have to be on a very large scale in order to invalidate that result," he said.

However, the four minority parties rejected the outcome, accusing the CPP of fiddling with the voter rolls to ensure their victory.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy estimated that one million out of 8.1 million registered voters had been cut from the rolls. He said his party members observed 50 to 100 people at each of the country's 15,000 polling stations had been unable to vote.

"The large-scale irregularities here can change the result of the election. I'm disappointed that such a so-called expert could make such a mistake," Sam Rainsy told AFP Tuesday outside the EU's press conference.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted lower violence from previous elections but said in a Tuesday statement it had observed "threats, intimidation and inducements directed against political activists" to get them to change parties.

The CPP has claimed victory, saying it captured at least 90 of the 123 seats in parliament, giving them more than a two-thirds majority.

Local rights groups have expressed concern that if the CPP did secure a majority there would be fewer checks and balances in the country's fledgling democracy.

At 55, Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 23 years and has vowed to remain in power until he is 90. He had been widely tipped to win amid a booming economy and nationalist sentiment sparked by a border feud with Thailand.

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