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Friday, July 18, 2008

COMFREL: Atmosphere of the 2008 Election Campaign Period

P.R./No 11/08 COMFREL/M.U

6th Preliminary Report
on the
Atmosphere of the 2008 Election Campaign Period
(2nd Week)

Phnom Penh, July 15, 2008

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) is concerned about the constant worsening of the security atmosphere during the electoral campaign period, particularly following the assassination of Mr. Khim Sambo, a reporter for Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, affiliated with the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), and his son on the night of July 11, 2008, in the centre of Phnom Penh. COMFREL condemns this cowardly act, which has a grave effect on voters, especially journalists and political party activists, causing them to fear for their lives. Mr. Thun Saray, President of COMFREL’s Board of Director, has appealed to “competent authorities to thoroughly investigate the case in order to arrest and punish the culprit(s), in accordance with the provisions of the relevant laws, and to improve the electoral atmosphere prior to the parliamentary elections”.

In view of the above-mentioned case, COMFREL would like to make the following recommendations to the National Election Committee (NEC):
  • Take all necessary measures to prevent intimidation, threats and obstruction to campaign activities conducted by political parties and activists;
  • Demand that private media abide by the Regulations, Procedures, Principles of Equity and Codes of Conduct;
  • Strengthen monitoring activities and complaint settlement mechanisms;
  • Promote and encourage observers from non-governmental committees and organizations to help those voters who have difficulties finding their name on the voter list on polling day.
In the second week of the electoral campaign period, COMFREL observed that there was an increase in the number of cases of murder, violence and violation of the Electoral Law, Procedures and Regulations, as well as other irregularities, as detailed below.
1. Security Atmosphere: Cases of Murder, Intimidation and Threats

According to reports delivered by the COMFREL’s network, there was an increase in the number of cases of murder, intimidation and threats in the second week of the election campaign period. Three cases of murder occurred in the given time period, with a total of three victims, including a journalist, a political party activist and a political party supporter.

These cases included:
  • The murder of Mr. Sout Song, an activist of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), in Ong Ta Ek village, Phnom Touch commune, Odong district, Kampong Speu province on July 1, 2008. The Human Rights Party (HRP) also claimed the victim as a member;
  • The murder of Mr. Loan Chok, an activist of the CPP, in Prey Kri village, Prey Kri commune, Cholkiri district, Kampong Chhnang province on July 6, 2008. Local authorities and human rights organizations believe that these two cases were not politically motivated, but rather related to resentment and land disputes.
  • The assassination of Mr. Khim Katsarin, also known as Mr. Khim Sambo, 47, a SRP-affiliated journalist for Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, and his son, Katsarin Cheata, 21, on the night of July 11, 2008, in the centre of Phnom Penh. Two unidentified gunmen fired shots, killing the two victims when they were leaving the Olympic Stadium after exercising. The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) believes that the murder of Mr. Khim Sambo was related to his profession, as most of his newspaper articles focused on political disputes, irregularities in the electoral process, destruction of the forest, illegal fishing and land grabbing, in which high-ranking government officials were involved.
In addition to the murder cases described above, there were also several cases of intimidation and threats against political party activists:

  • An alleged attempt to assassinate Mr. Oum Sara, a commentator for the Candle Light Radio Program organized by the SRP in Phnom Penh municipality on July 6, 2008;
  • 16 cases of threats of murder or physical harm in Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kampong Speu, Kampot, Svay Rieng, Prey Veng and Otdar Meanchey provinces, among others. The majority of the victims were members of the SRP, the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) and the HRP. Most of the alleged offenders were local authority officials or CPP supporters;
  • In comparison with previous months, the electoral period has seen a notable increase in the number of thefts, muggings and robberies, causing people to feel more afraid. Most of these cases have taken place in Phnom Penh municipality, Kampong Cham, Battambang, Siem Reap, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Kandal and Takeo provinces. In the whole month of May 2008, there were 64 cases of robbery, theft and mugging. By the end of the first two weeks of July, there had already been 41 cases of such offenses.
2. Irregularities

Some of the cases of irregularity that occurred in the second week of the election campaign include:

  • Six cases of gift giving to buy votes, two of which occurred in Kampong Chhnang province, two in Siem Reap province, one in Prey Veng province and one in Pursat province;
  • Numerous cases of confiscating political party leaflets and destruction of party billboards – both of which are election campaign violations – mostly in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kampot, Kampong Cham, Kandal, Prey Veng and Stung Treng provinces and Phnom Penh municipality. When it comes to permitting political parties to hand out their leaflets and put up their posters, ordinary people are more amenable than commune and village authorities, even in cases where parties do not have the prior approval of the home owners involved. The party that has handed out and put up the most leaflets, posters and slogans is the CPP, followed by the SRP, the HRP, the NRP and Funcinpec;
  • Two cases of disenfranchisement of Funcinpec members by authorities in Banteay Meanchey;
  • Four cases related to provocation and obstruction to party campaign activities. One example of obstruction was when HRP representatives were prevented from conducting their campaign activities by a group of security guards at O’Russei Market in Phnom Penh;
  • Authorities, civil servants and armed forces personnel in almost all 24 provinces/municipalities are still not acting in a politically neutral manner when exercising their official duties. COMFREL observed that many government officials from the various ministries/departments did not fulfill their administrative duties in first two weeks of July. Moreover, several village chiefs and local authority actors have opposed and obstructed party campaign activities.

Up to now, COMFREL has received and followed up on 26 cases. Of these 26 cases, 11 were filed by the SRP, most involving intimidation of political party activists and violations of the Electoral Regulations and Procedures by CPP officials. The six cases filed by the CPP comprised mainly cases of defamation, in which an individual’s personal dignity was affected and/or electoral campaign procedures were violated. Three cases, filed by the NRP, concerned the failure of the authorities to provide equal access to parties in their campaign activities. Two cases were filed by the Banteay Meanchey province branch of Funcinpec and involved the illegal confiscation of Khmer ID cards and leaflets. Another case was filed by the HRP and focused on the destruction of party property. One unusual case occurred in Borkeo district of Ratanakiri province on July 2, 2008 when a district deputy police inspector detained a 17-year old boy and his younger brother for allegedly destroying a CPP billboard and asked them to pay 150,000 Riel.

3. Procedure for Receiving, Filing and Resolving Complaints

COMFREL notes that political party agents seem to have a better understanding, as compared with previous elections, of the complaints process, such as providing details on a complaint, presenting evidence, finding witnesses, respecting deadlines and working towards reconciliation, all by means of the NEC Reminder Notification on Receiving and Resolving Complaints at Commune/Sangkat Election Commissions (CECs) during the Electoral Campaign Phase, dated July 3, 2008. COMFREL is also pleased to note that the number of complaints rejected has decreased. Of the 116 complaints1 filed at commune level, only 12 have been rejected. This compares positively with previous elections, when more than 80% of complaints were rejected.

50 complaints were appealed at Provincial/Municipal Election Commissions (PECs) when CEC reconciliation was felt to be unsatisfactory. Six complaints against CEC officials were filed directly at PECs. 22 complaints were appealed at the NEC. 29 of the 116 complaints were resolved; 52 could not be resolved. The 116 complaints included:

  • Seven cases related to vote buying;
  • Nine cases related to participation of public and religious officials in party campaign activities;
  • 19 cases related to election campaign disturbance;
  • 31 cases related to destruction of election campaign materials/equipment;
  • 16 cases related to disturbance and/or threats, including attempted murder;
  • 20 cases related to defamation and/or insults;
  • 12 cases related to general violation of regulations and procedures;
  • One case related to the use of a public building by a political party;
  • One case in which an administrative police chief asked for the names of political party agents and members (it is unclear whether this is a violation of election law).

According to COMFREL observation, the majority of hearings by electoral authorities to resolve complaints, particularly at the provincial/municipal level, proceeded in accordance with the Electoral Procedures and Regulations. Offenders who violated the Regulations and Procedures were punished in various ways, including a five-year disenfranchisement of three voters in Kampong Cham province and fines of 5,000,000 Riel per person in four cases of vote buying. This included individual cases of vote buying in Pursat province and the sacking of one CEC official in Battambang province. Nevertheless, some cases remain unclear with regard to the law. These include three cases, in Battambang, Kampong Cham and Kampot provinces, in which a “warning” was issued, and another case in Kampot province where two perpetrators were fined 5,000,000 Riel together for something not stipulated in the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly. The law states that “the penalty provision must be enforced” and “each of the perpetrators must be charged with their individual offense”. Observation noted that the majority of claimants and defendants were not satisfied with the decision made by the PEC, claiming that settlements were not fully based on the law and its penalty provisions. As a result, some defendants have appealed and are now asking the NEC for justice.

There were also several complaints involving prominent dignitaries who are also electoral candidates. These included cases against H.E Sam Rainsy, who allegedly violated the codes of conduct and the Electoral Campaign Regulations and Procedures in Kratie, Kampong Cham, Pursat and Battambang provinces, as well as three other cases against H.E Ly Thuch, H.E Seang Nam and H.E Prom Sokha over vote buying in Pursat, Siem Reap and Prey Veng provinces, respectively.

4. Media Broadcasts during the Election Campaign Period 4.1 Violations of Codes of Conduct and NEC Guidelines

30 private media outlets, broadcasting in almost all provinces/municipalities, continued to disregard the codes of conduct for journalists and the NEC’s broadcast guidelines. FM 95 MHz Bayon radio station is still producing its daily radio program “Khmer Culture”, which is aired live by at least six other radio stations2 and often uses language inciting and provoking discrimination against other political parties, particularly the SRP, the HRP and the NRP (referring to their leaders as incompetent, devious, intent on ruining the nation, etc). Meanwhile, private TV and radio stations are producing programs that support the CPP and oppose the opposition parties, which severely violate the NEC’s principles of program production and equality of media access for all parties.

The language referred to above has also been broadcast by media outlets that have rented airtime to other political parties.3 Maha Norkor FM 93.5 MHz, for instance, frequently broadcasts SRP programs that use words to insult CPP leaders (e.g. referring to them as “thieves who steal and sell the nation”, etc).

In the meantime, Ta Prom FM 90.5 MHz radio, which is affiliated to Funcinpec and has not made a public announcement to prove that it rents airtime to all political parties, is preparing to produce programs that serve only Funcinpec.

4.2 Tone Analysis of Media Outlets Monitored in Depth by COMFREL

Media outlets whose airtime is monitored in depth by COMFREL between 17:00 and 23:00 include National Kampuchea Television (TVK), Cambodia Television Network (CTN), FM 96 MHz and AM 918 KHz (both of which belong to National Radio of Kampuchea), FM 105 MHz Beehive radio, FM 102 MHz radio, Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of America (VOA) and French International Radio (RFI).4

Media monitoring of the above-mentioned outlets between June 26 and July 10, 2008 showed that the SRP and the CPP were referred to the most in broadcasts. 12% (equivalent to 11 hours and 35 minutes) of the total broadcast time recorded propagated both parties. Of all the monitored media outlets, only CTN produced and disseminated programs biased towards the CPP. The NRP, Funcinpec and the HRP received around 10% of airtime (equivalent to 9 hours). The Khmer Republican Party (KRP) received the least airtime (5%, equivalent to 4 hours and 29 minutes). Other political parties received between 7% (equivalent to 6 hours and 30 minutes) and 9% (equivalent to 8 hours and 35 minutes) of airtime. One of the broadcasts with a negative tone comprised an interview between the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch and a RFA commentator, which included references to the murder and torture of Funcinpec officials as responsibility of the Hun Sen government during the July 5-6 coup in 1997. RFA radio asked the Prime Minister and the National Police Commander-in-Chief to comment on this matter but received no response yet so far.

The NEC Equity News program, broadcast by the state-run media outlets, has allocated the same amount of time – 10 minutes per day, broadcast twice per day – to each political party. The Royal Government and the CPP have received a great deal of criticism from the other 10 political parties when expressing their views during the allocated airtime. Verbal attacks dealt mostly with the skyrocketing prices of basic goods; land issues; destruction of natural resources, particularly forests; immigration; corruption; dictatorship; and prevailing injustice in society.

Notable campaign activities conducted by political parties during the second week included the highlight of CPP achievement on the registration of Preah Vihear temple on the World Heritage list in addition to the party’s other achievements so far. This link has been accused as taking political advantage, as the achievements really result from the efforts of the Cambodian people as a whole. The SRP leader, on the other hand, used a Global Witness report on logging to call current Royal Government leaders “thieves who are stealing the nation”. This caused CPP representatives to immediately lodge complaints in those provinces/municipalities where the SRP was conducting its campaign.

5. Observers Not Being Encouraged to Help Voters

COMFREL deeply regrets that the NEC has rejected its proposal to accredit observers with rights and roles in order to help voters, on the basis that this would provoke disorder at polling stations and interfere with election preparation.5 In previous elections, many voters have had difficulties finding their name on the voting list – in some cases, names had been removed. In addition, there were many irregularities related to illegal deletion of voter names and voters not receiving their voter information notice. Therefore, COMFREL is to assign its observers in assisting the second assistant of polling station officials in order to be able to help voters find their polling office and name. When helping voters, observers should abide by the codes of conduct. Because there are different codes of conduct, COMFREL believes that the rights and roles of NGO observers are not as the same as those of political party agents, village chiefs or local authorities.

For more information, please contact
  • Mr. Koul Panha, COMFREL Executive Director, Tel: 012 942 017
  • Mr. Mar Sophal, COMFREL Head of Monitoring Unit, Tel: 012 845 091

COMFREL’s mission is to help to create an informed and favorable democratic climate (1) for free and fair elections through lobbying and advocacy to establish a permanent and suitable legal framework; education to inform citizens of their rights; and monitoring activities that both discourage irregularities and provide comprehensive data to enable an objective, non-partisan assessment to be made of the election process, and (2) for the general public to fully understand democratic processes not just before elections but also after and between them. It arranges, towards this end, educational sessions and public forums to encourage citizens to participate in politics and decision making. It encourages constructive advocacy and lobbying for electoral reforms that increase the accountability of elected officials. Finally, by providing comprehensive observation and monitoring, it enables objective, non-partisan assessments to be made on the progress of commitment made in political platforms and on the performance of elected officials.

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