June 1998 Vol.
10, No. 4(C)
Cambodia: Fair Elections Not Possible
I. Summary and Recommendations
II. Background: Post-Coup Cambodia
III. Political Violence in 1998 and Ongoing Impunity
IV. Surveillance, Intimidation, and Climate of Fear
V. Problems with Voter Registration
VI. Lack of Equal Access to the Media
VII. Lack of Neutral and Independent National Institutions to Organize and Oversee the Elections
VIII. The Importance of International Observers
IX. Conclusion: Should Elections be Held Now?
The dog barks and the ox cart plods along. The leaders may make strong noises promising that the elections will be free and fair, and the ox cart -- the international community -- proceeds as usual, providing aid without looking carefully at what's really going on.
--Cambodian human rights worker, Battambang province, April 1998.
I. Summary and Recommendations
The present political environment in Cambodia, in which opposition parties are not able to operate freely and safely, is in no way conducive to the holding of free, fair, and credible elections scheduled for July 26, 1998. The primary obstacle is neither logistical nor technical, but rather the determination of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) to control the electoral process and restrict basic freedoms.
Human Rights Watch recommends postponement of elections until the conditions conducive to a free and fair poll are in place. However, recognizing that the combined international and domestic momentum to hold elections in July is strong and, indeed, may be impossible to halt, Human Rights Watch recommends concrete steps that donor nations and the Cambodian government can take to minimize yet further human rights abuses and even greater intimidation of Cambodian citizens in exercising their right to elect a government.
In a two-month research mission to Cambodia from February to April 1998, in which interviews were conducted in eight provinces and municipalities,(1) Human Rights Watch found the following:
Under the circumstances, there is no way elections scheduled for July 26 can be free and fair, and no chance that a deeply flawed and rushed electoral process will help Cambodia either establish democracy or bring an end to disruptive military activity by a disgruntled opposition. We therefore believe that the elections should be postponed.
We caution, however, that postponement alone will achieve little unless the international community speaks with one voice in setting forth the conditions that must be met to guarantee a fair election and backs that up with significant economic and diplomatic pressure. We believe that fair elections and an end to impunity for human rights offenders are linked: opposition parties will only be free to organize and campaign when it is clear that acts of political violence will be punished. Two steps that should be taken to help ensure an end to impunity would be the establishment of a genuinely independent commission of inquiry into the killings that occurred during and after the July 1997 coup and prosecution of offenders. It would also be critical to repeal Article 51 of the Civil Servants Act, which provides that civil servants cannot be arrested or prosecuted for any crime unless their governmental department agrees in advance.
If the momentum toward meeting the July date cannot be halted, we believe the Friends of Cambodia -- many of whom were instrumental in the peace process that led to Cambodia's 1993 U.N.-organized elections -- have a particular responsibility to try and ensure the safety of the voters and reduce the likelihood that the voting will be manipulated, without at the same time lending legitimacy to the process by providing "technical assistance" to the Cambodian government.
In addition, if elections go forward, the donors should also insist on a minimum set of conditions that are entirely within the Cambodian government's power to meet, even at this late date. The government should be asked to:
Meeting the above conditions will not necessarily guarantee a fair election, but it might reduce the possibility of abuse and intimidation. It will then be the responsibility of the Friends of Cambodia to begin work immediately on a program that will at least try to ensure that Cambodia moves in a direction that will make future elections more fair. To do this, the Friends should:
II. Background: Post-Coup Cambodia
Developments since the July 1997 coup have had a profound effect on the prospects for a fair election. Incidents of political violence and ongoing impunity for perpetrators have created a climate of fear, thwarting opposition political parties' attempts to rebuild the party structures that the coup effectively destroyed.
CPP's Consolidation of Power after the Coup
In the coup of July 5-6, 1997, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen ousted his coalition partner, First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh, ending the fractious and ill-fated coalition government that was installed after elections supervised by the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in 1993.
The forcible ousting of Prince Ranariddh, whose FUNCINPEC(3) party won a plurality of seats in the 1993 elections, was followed by a systematic campaign of intimidation, torture, and summary executions of at least forty-one FUNCINPEC members by Hun Sen's forces. In addition, more than 500 FUNCINPEC soldiers were temporarily confined in detention centers, with at least thirty tortured in custody. Dozens of opposition members of parliament, political workers, labor union activists, and journalists fled to Thailand, where many regrouped as the Union of Cambodian Democrats. Others made accommodations with the CPP or escaped to FUNCINPEC zones in northwestern Cambodia. More than 40,000 Cambodians fled to the Thai border to escape factional fighting that began in July in northwestern Cambodia, where FUNCINPEC Gen. Nhek Bun Chhay began to organize a resistance army.
After the coup, Hun Sen moved to consolidate his power through action in the courts and the rump National Assembly. On August 6, 1997, despite the absence of twenty exiled parliamentarians, the National Assembly removed Ranariddh's parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution and confirmed Hun Sen's choice for a new first prime minister, Foreign Minister Ung Huot, a member of FUNCINPEC.(4) Subsequently, on August 8, a warrant was issued for Ranariddh's arrest for allegedly buying and importing illegal weapons in May 1997. In another move to neutralize opposition parties, on September 17, the Municipal Court determined that the Son Sann faction of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP), which sided with Ranariddh, could no longer use the BLDP party name or logo. Another of the main opposition parties, the Khmer Nation Party led by Sam Rainsy, later faced a similar struggle over the rights to the name of the party he founded, when a pro-CPP faction claimed the party name and logo. Son Sann and Sam Rainsy ultimately decided to register their parties under their own names, rather than the parties' historic ones.
In the absence of a significant number of opposition members of parliament who were still in self-exile, the National Assembly passed key legislation, including a political party law (passed on October 27, 1997) and an election law (passed on December 19, 1997). A National Electoral Commission, mandated by the election law to administer and oversee the polling, was established in January 1998.
Provincial Repercussions of the Coup
The coup not only wreaked havoc in Phnom Penh, which was pounded by mortars, tank fire, and automatic weapons for two days, but its effects were almost immediately felt in Cambodia's provinces as well. In the week following the coup, in many provinces CPP police and military surrounded the houses of FUNCINPEC and opposition members and confiscated weapons and party membership lists. In some provinces, such as Battambang, FUNCINPEC offices were ransacked and looted. Hundreds of FUNCINPEC activists, as well as Son Sann and Sam Rainsy supporters, fled to Phnom Penh or to the Thai border, where some joined the military resistance. Many of those who stayed behind in the provinces were pressured to denounce their parties and sign loyalty oaths to the CPP. Virtually all political party signs in the provinces aside from those of the CPP were removed, either voluntarily or after activists were threatened by provincial authorities.
In several provinces, large numbers of FUNCINPEC supporters were detained for up to a week, usually on illegal weapons charges, before being released, including thirty-one in Prey Veng, twelve in Battambang, and approximately one hundred in Siem Reap. CPP officials in many areas summoned opposition party members to meetings, in which they were given the CPP's perspective on the events of July 5-6 -- that it was not a coup but an attempt to suppress "anarchic forces."
An opposition party activist from Takeo described what happened there after the coup:
FUNCINPEC provincial officials who stayed in place and did not flee to the border were essentially marginalized and powerless, often with members of the police and military disarmed even during working hours. Many FUNCINPEC governors who had not joined the CPP or splinter parties aligned with it were routinely excluded from decision-making and not invited to participate in high-profile provincial ceremonies that would help them gather votes and build popular support.
From July until the end of the year throughout Cambodia there were ongoing incidents of political violence and killings of high-ranking FUNCINPEC members who did not flee, creating an intense climate of fear. Many of the leaders of FUNCINPEC loyal to Prince Ranariddh who were able to escape remained in self-exile, as did Sam Rainsy and the leaders of the Son Sann Party. During this period there was virtually no opposition political party activity in the provinces.
"We saw our leaders outside of the country," said a Sam Rainsy Party activist in Battambang, who went underground during this period. "There were only a few of us who continued political activities but we were constantly moving around to protect ourselves."(6) Prior to Prince Ranariddh's return in March, a FUNCINPEC supporter in Prey Veng said that once Ranariddh returned to Cambodia, provincial members would feel more confident about their personal security, even if their offices were located several hours away from Phnom Penh. "If Ranariddh is able to return to Cambodia we hope that he can guarantee our life," he said. "Otherwise we are like a child with no parent. Without our parent we can't walk. The absence of Ranariddh makes us afraid."(7)
III. Political Violence In 1998 and Ongoing Impunity
Human Rights Watch documented increasing political violence in both the countryside and Phnom Penh, starting in January 1998. The cycle of violence in the first months of 1998 targeted senior security and intelligence officials from Ranariddh's FUNCINPEC party in Phnom Penh, particularly those actively involved in efforts to rebuild the shattered party structure or suspected of involvement in the July factional fighting and/or the opposition's armed resistance activities on the Thai border since July. Examples of these types of murders were the killing on March 4 of Gen. Thach Kim Sang, who was gunned down on a busy Phnom Penh street in broad daylight, the March 3 assassination of Lt. Col. Moung Sameth in Kien Svay district near Phnom Penh, and the March 28 murder of Lt. Col. Chea Vutha, also in Kien Svay district.(8)
During the first four months of 1998, Human Rights Watch detected a pattern of violence against lower-level opposition party workers in remote areas of the countryside, often under the guise of personal conflicts, robbery, or land disputes. While there were isolated incidents of violence against local-level opposition activists in 1997 -- such as the massacre of five villagers affiliated with FUNCINPEC in Takeo in October (9) -- political violence in the provinces took a sharp increase in January. With the return of several large contingents of exiled opposition politicians at the beginning of 1998, activists in some provinces made tentative first steps to reactivate grassroots networks. The locus of political activity, and consequently political violence and intimidation, began to extend towards provinces carrying relatively high numbers of seats in the 120-seat National Assembly, such as Takeo (nine seats), Prey Veng (eleven seats), and Kampot (six seats).
In Takeo, Sam Rainsy Party members began to organize district-level meetings even before Rainsy's return in mid-December, further bolstered by several visits he made to the province not long after his return. When party members from Phnom Penh met with villagers in one of the districts in mid-February, local authorities quickly reacted, interrogating and threatening the owner of a house where the meeting was held. A week later, police threatened to kill a Sam Rainsy Party activist in another district in Takeo if he held a party meeting in his village, causing the man to flee to another province for safety. "The CPP have assigned police to investigate our party throughout the province and make lists of our members, as well as FUNCINPEC," said a Sam Rainsy Party member from Takeo. "The police threaten the people not to go to meetings, and then during our meetings the police use loudspeakers to disturb us or warn the people not to participate."(10)
In Prey Veng, the reaction to opposition activity was even stronger. On January 27, 1998, In (Chak) Phuong, fifty-eight, an activist member of Sam Rainsy's party and his four-year-old daughter were shot and killed in Preah Sdech district. The U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights concluded the murder was very likely politically motivated, although police attributed it to robbery and personal revenge. The murder, however, caused at least one other activist member of the Sam Rainsy Party living nearby, who was accused of reporting the incident, to go into hiding for several months after armed militia came to his house to question him after the news got out. The repercussions were felt not only in Prey Veng but in adjacent Kompong Cham province. "People heard about the shooting on VOA and talk about it in the market," said a Sam Rainsy Party activist from Kompong Cham. "We know we have to be careful or we'll be next."(11) Member of Parliament Son Chhay, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, commented that the killing not only eliminated a key grassroots organizer but deterred other opposition members, particularly those living in remote districts, throughout the country.(12)
In the seaside province of Kampot, opposition party activists were interrogated and threatened upon returning from party meetings in Phnom Penh starting in January, and a temple ceremony on February 13 was disrupted by a commune chief firing a rifle into the air when Sam Rainsy was speaking. After the incident the commune chief admitted to the crowd that he had received orders from his superiors to disrupt Rainsy's speech and try to block attendance by students and local villagers. The head monk was threatened several times by district authorities, who unsuccessfully attempted to pressure him to turn over a video tape that pagoda members had made of the ceremony that included the shooting.(13) Intimidation of monks or pagodas where political activity is thought to be occurring is not uncommon in Kampot, where in April a representative from the Department of Cults and Religion visited at least four pagodas to threaten head monks and Buddhist leaders suspected of participating in meetings and ceremonies involving opposition party members.(14)
FUNCINPEC officials from Phnom Penh, accompanied by two international monitors from the office of the U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary General assigned to monitor the security of returning politicians, drove from Phnom Penh on March 2 to open party offices in Kampot town and nearby Kep municipality. While a fairly large crowd turned out for both events, most of the FUNCINPEC officials -- including two who said they expected to be running as National Assembly candidates from Kampot -- were all on the road back to Phnom Penh by early afternoon. "I am on a blacklist here, along with four others from Kampot -- two of whom are most certainly dead," one of the prospective candidates said at the party office opening in Kep. The former governor of Kep, Chea Rittichutt, also on the list, was one of those thought to be have already been killed shortly after the coup. "During the campaign I will probably just come down on day trips from Phnom Penh."(15)
Staffing the party office in Kampot a month after its opening was a FUNCINPEC member who had formerly been a district chief in Kampot but who had fled to Thailand after the coup. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriated him to Cambodia on January 23, but he did not feel safe enough to return to Kampot until the party office opened. As of early April, he had still not returned to his home district. "Recently my district sent me a letter inviting me back, but I'm afraid to return," he said. "I worry because a section of the letter was written in red ink [a warning symbol in Cambodian culture], stating 'this is your last invitation' [to return to my old position]."(16)
In a pattern found in other provinces, when FUNCINPEC officials accompanied by U.N. monitors arrived to reopen their provincial offices, district members who had been politically active or even in hiding for months resurfaced at the party office opening ceremonies. This was often the first time party officials or human rights workers received news of abuses that had occurred in the districts during the previous months. At the opening of the Kep FUNCINPEC office, for example, members received word about a killing of another FUNCINPEC supporter several weeks previously. On February 20, 1998, village elder Mom Yan, sixty-five, was shot and killed in his house in Kompong Trach District, Kampot, as he sat with his wife and grandchild. Mom Yan, who served on the local pagoda committee, was respected, popular, and influential in his small village, where he was known to have been outspoken in his support for Prince Ranariddh. Two weeks before he died he told his wife he thought he would die before her, and be killed by shooting, not by illness.(17)
Much of the provincial political violence during the first months of 1998 occurred under the guise of robbery or personal revenge. In February, human rights workers in Kampot reported a steep increase in murders, with seventeen occurring in the first six weeks of the year alone (usually they would be investigating only two or three murders within the same time frame). "The problem of robbery is closely connected to the political case," said a Cambodian human rights worker in Kampot. "As the election date comes close, robbery-murders will increase. So from this point on [early March] we worry very much. If one or two people are killed, others will be afraid to campaign. There will be more bloodshed."(18)
Politically based violence or repression in the provinces has also been mixed with disputes over land. Since the coup, opposition members have become even more marginalized than before. One way to pressure them to curtail their political activities is for local authorities, who usually control the Land Title Department, to threaten to confiscate their land. Some opposition party supporters said they feared they may have to move from their villages if they express dissent or openly show support for the opposition because they will be identified for retaliatory measures by local authorities. A grenade attack on a Son Sann Party activist in Kirivong District, Takeo on April 26, in which two people were killed, may have been caused by a combination of political factors and a long-standing land dispute between the activist's family and local authorities. Two days before the attack, commune and village leaders had tried to pressure the activist to thumbprint a document pledging his support for the CPP, but he refused. Prior to the attack the activist had expressed fears about his personal safety during the upcoming electoral campaign.(19) The Takeo First Deputy Governor was quoted as saying he did not know whether the attack was caused by a land dispute, politics, or romance, but added, "In Takeo we have over 1,000 cases of land or lady disputes, but nobody throws grenades against them, only against the people who are involved in politics."(20)
In Svay Rieng, harassment of several FUNCINPEC members escalated to the point where several members' homes were burned down in March. One of those to lose his home had been a candidate for commune chief after the 1993 elections. After the coup, commune militia and district soldiers surrounded his house and searched for weapons. On March 6, 1998, his house and that of two other FUNCINPEC members nearby were burned down. Several days before the fire a group of five or six armed uniformed soldiers had begun to patrol the village at night. Another FUNCINPEC supporter in the same village said that four or five armed men surrounded his house for about fifteen minutes on four different nights in March, knocking on the fence and cocking their weapons. The ultimate effect of these incidents in the village was that several of the FUNCINPEC members living there, including one whose house had been burned, subsequently went into hiding in another province, afraid they would be killed under the pretext of a robbery.(21)
In many provinces, we were told, after opposition members attend party meetings in Phnom Penh, they are visited by local officials upon returning home and questioned about their activities. In one case in Kampot, armed militia visited a FUNCINPEC member's home after he had gone to Siem Reap in April to greet Prince Ranariddh. Friends and neighbors had gathered at the man's house after his return to hear about his trip. The militia asked the man who all the visitors had been and accused him and his friends of planning a coup. He was told to stay quiet or it would be dangerous for him. After subsequent trips to Phnom Penh in May, he was threatened by the same militia again. Eventually he left his village to go into hiding elsewhere.(22)
Under these circumstances, opposition parties have found it extremely difficult to reorganize, let alone campaign. A FUNCINPEC candidate summed it up: "Security is still the main problem. How do we campaign: openly, or just by word of mouth? It's difficult without television or radio. We know there are people out there who support the cause, but it's difficult to contact them. Because of security problems, we have to train our provincial, commune, and district representatives in Phnom Penh. But when they return to their provinces, they have problems. They are followed, identified, and threatened." (23)
As of mid-April, there was much less political activity -- and consequently less political violence -- in the northwestern provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey, where the focus was on the ongoing military activity between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and resistance forces. That activity, however, had a spillover effect on soldiers and families of people connected to the military resistance based on the Thai border. Between late December and mid-February 1998, five violent incidents occurred in Banteay Meanchey province, in which a total of eight people -- soldiers affiliated with the resistance and their families -- were killed. For example, on February 19, 1998, Mrs. Kea Ron, her seventeen-year-old son Bun Sovannak, and Chea Samnang, thirty-two, a family friend, were executed in Banteay Meanchey province. The murders were apparently retaliation against the head of the family, Capt. Bun Sovanna, for having left RCAF Division 12 and joined the pro-Ranariddh resistance after the July coup. In another incident in Banteay Meanchey on February 27, former Division 12 soldier Taem Sophat -- who had joined the resistance for a while after the coup but who was on leave at the time -- and two of his children were killed by a group of six armed soldiers, allegedly wearing RCAF uniforms. In all of these incidents, RCAF Division 12, which has a base in the vicinity of the victims' villages, failed to provide protection. (24)
The CPP has not been immune to political violence, with members of the Khmer Citizen Party, which is allied with the CPP, charging that three of its members were killed in Puok District, Siem Reap, on March 28 for political reasons. In addition, the publisher of the pro-CPP newspaper Koh Santepheap (Peace Island) was shot and wounded on June 8 in Phnom Penh. Afterwards, publisher Thong Uy Pang charged in a front-page story in his newspaper that "devil criminals and ambitious and powerful politicians in the present government" were behind the attack, although Human Rights Watch has no evidence to substantiate his charge.(25)
A May 13, 1998 memorandum from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia detailed forty-two additional killings and six long-term disappearances of people presumed killed since the initial forty-one killings documented by the U.N. Center in August 1997 in the wake of the coup. Another U.N. report prepared by two experts in criminal investigation, who visited Cambodia in April to evaluate the government's progress in investigating post-coup executions and the deadly March 30, 1997 grenade attack, concluded that the government had not launched any serious investigations into any of the cases, and that no investigations were planned.(26)
On June 8, after public release of these last two U.N. reports, the co-prime ministers signed a sub-decree to establish a committee to investigate human rights abuses. The fact that the four-person committee is led by a top adviser to Hun Sen, Om Yentieng, and that this is the fourth time since July 1997 Hun Sen has pledged to set up such a commission does not inspire confidence that prosecutions will actually take place. Until the government brings perpetrators of political killings and violence to justice, many Cambodians will continue to be afraid to openly engage in political activities, attend political rallies, or express their political viewpoints, out of fear for their personal safety.
IV. Surveillance, Intimidation, and Climate of Fear
The political violence in Phnom Penh peaked at the end of March, when tensions ran high with the return of Prince Ranariddh to Cambodia. Small-scale street fighting broke out in the capital for several days in early April, as demonstrators loyal to different factions clashed with each other. Ranariddh's return took place only after he had been tried -- and then pardoned by King Sihanouk -- for allegedly buying and illegally transporting illegal weapons to Cambodia and colluding with the Khmer Rouge.
In the first of two trials, held in absentia in Phnom Penh Military Court on March 3, Ranariddh was found guilty of illegally purchasing and transporting weapons and sentenced in absentia to five years in prison. Co-defendant Gen. Nhek Bun Chhay was sentenced to four years in prison, and Thach Suong, chief of the prince's bodyguard unit, was given a suspended two-year sentence. In a second trial on March 17, Ranariddh, resistance generals Nhek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal, and Gen. Chao Sambath (who was executed after the coup) were convicted of colluding with the Khmer Rouge to overthrow the government. At this second trial, the Phnom Penh Military Court sentenced Ranariddh to thirty years in prison; Nhek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal were each sentenced to twenty years. In addition, the defendants were required to pay U.S. $56 million in damages to the government, individuals, and private companies that incurred losses during the coup.
On March 21, King Sihanouk issued a full royal pardon for both of Ranariddh's criminal convictions and released the prince from having to pay any compensation. Pardons were not issued, however, for generals Nhek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal. Their lack of amnesty has continued to pose a stumbling block to the finalization of a Japanese peace plan proposed for Cambodia earlier in the year, which calls for a cease-fire and reintegration of resistance forces into the government army.
In April the CPP turned its attention to getting its members appointed to the provincial and commune election commissions, the governmental bodies charged with administering the elections. It also launched a heavy-handed (but generally nonviolent) CPP membership campaign. At a CPP congress earlier in the year the party had set a strategic electoral plan to obtain representation in the provincial and commune electoral commissions and to launch widespread party recruitment drives. (27) The CPP's nationwide campaign to thumbprint new "members" -- by early June the party claimed more than three million members -- and to confiscate and record their registration numbers was thought by some analysts we spoke with to be part of a strategy for challenging the election results in the event that the CPP loses.
In May, there was a lull in political violence, and Hun Sen made several conciliatory gestures to the opposition, calling for voter intimidation to cease and pledging a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the elections. After the threat of an election boycott by the opposition, Hun Sen agreed to amendments to the electoral law on May 8 to change the vote count from the polling station level (one to three villages) to the commune level, addressing in part voter concerns that their voting choices would be detected. However, many of the opposition leaders had pushed for votes to be counted at the district -- if not provincial -- level, as the commune is still a relatively small administrative unit in Cambodia, consisting of from four to seven villages. Since commune chiefs frequently double as chiefs of the commune militia, they might be seen as having the means to find out who had voted for whom.
Beginning in late May, top opposition leaders such as Rainsy and Ranariddh began to make more public appearances in the countryside, where they were able to move about and speak fairly freely. Careful not to specifically ask for people's votes in his appearances because the official campaign period has not yet started, Rainsy has made several provincial trips, accompanied by the press, going by boat to Kompong Cham and Kratie and stopping at villages along the way, as well as flying to the remote province of Ratanakiri -- staunch CPP territory -- to mingle with tribal people in their villages and the provincial market. Ranariddh also began to venture out to the provinces, hitting Hun Sen's home province of Kompong Cham, which carries the highest number of National Assembly seats and where Ranariddh will be running, where he spoke before a crowd of 1,000 FUNCINPEC supporters without incident on April 1.
Despite high-profile visits such as these by top opposition leaders, there continues to be little political activity by opposition parties in the countryside outside of the provincial towns. As late as mid-April, many opposition party offices in the provinces had not yet appointed officers, relying instead on interim staff who lacked full decision-making ability. Even political party signs -- which usually do not indicate the presence of an active political party office but the fact that a farmer has been paid a bag of rice to post a signboard above his house -- are overwhelmingly dominated by the CPP, except in the provincial towns, where a sprinkling of other party signs might appear.
Villagers in many provinces said there is much more fear since July 1997. "People are too afraid to start campaigning," a Cambodian human rights worker in Battambang noted. "If the village authorities come once or twice to your house to ask about weapons, that's enough to make you afraid for the future."(28) An opposition activist planning to run for election in Takeo said, "If there's no active campaign or opposition leader in the commune, everything is okay. But the threat is there -- you can feel it in the air. No one can talk about anything."(29)
The CPP continues to be the only party able to actively campaign throughout the countryside -- where 80 percent of Cambodia's population lives. Early in the year the party launched an aggressive recruitment campaign in almost every province, in which local officials convene mass meetings or go house-to-house to solicit thumbprints and pledges from the populace to vote for the CPP, often in exchange for gifts. The CPP has reactivated its "cell system" used in the 1993 elections, in which party stalwarts are assigned to monitor and pressure ten to twelve families, with quotas set for the number of votes these "party group leaders" are to deliver. This has created serious doubts among the rural electorate as to whether the upcoming ballot will indeed be secret. Many people fear reprisals if they vote for or actively support opposition parties.(30)
"They [the authorities] think that in the village, for example, there are 300 CPP supporters out of 600," said one worried villager in Battambang. "Within those 300 if only one hundred vote for them, maybe the 200 others will have a problem or an accident. We worry about the 300 people who supposedly support them - what if they don't vote? How does this then reflect on the rest of us?"(31)The CPP's "thumbprint campaign" has been criticized by the U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia Thomas Hammarberg, who said it violates the spirit of confidentiality of the ballot.(32) "No one denies the right to recruitment drives, but it is important that this is done in a way which would not amount to coercion," Hammarberg said.(33)
Through the cell system, CPP group leaders have distributed tens of thousands of newly printed copies of a booklet with photos of CPP leaders Hun Sen, Chea Sim and Heng Samrin, with space for thumbprints of new members as well as heavy-handed instructions for the party group leaders and new party members. For example, the booklet states, "Each member must promise to vote for the party and to mobilize his or her family or neighbors to vote for the party."(34)
These instructions have been followed to the letter in many provinces. In Kompong Speu in April a district official invited people to a pagoda and had them thumbprint a document. He then announced that everyone was now a member of the CPP and must vote accordingly. He added that he knew who the party loyalists were, so he would be watching the other people in the commune and would seek revenge if they did not vote for the CPP.(35)
Human Rights Watch found during its provincial research that most of these pledges were taken under duress, although in most cases, there did not appear to be immediate retaliation against those who refused to cooperate. Nonetheless, it was suggested to those who did not agree to sign up and be fingerprinted that their safety could not be guaranteed, that they might be ineligible to register to vote or branded as pro-Khmer Rouge, or that their village could lose out on development assistance. Some have been told that the thumbprint taken to verify their receipt of gifts from the CPP will be compared with their thumbprint on their ballot, which could intimidate them to vote for the CPP.
The CPP works in the military style: if you get a T-shirt, you have to deliver ten votes. In every village they have their structure, and they expect the vote to come out according to their [pre-poll] surveys. They threaten the people who change their mind.
Cambodian human rights worker, Battambang, April 7, 1998.
Village and district leaders hold meetings at night, make speeches, and force the people to swear to the Buddha that they will vote for the CPP, or be cursed.
The commune and district authorities are collecting the people in my district — mostly the people they know support the CPP — to have secret meetings. They explain about the guidelines of the party. Then they make people take an oath by drinking water with a bullet in it from an AK47. Those who drink this must promise to vote for the CPP. If they break their promise, those people will be killed by the bullet they drink. According to our beliefs, most people who make such an oath will vote for the CPP even if they don't agree. They'll be afraid The CPP works in the military style: if you get a T-shirt, you have to deliver ten votes. In every village they have their structure, and they expect the vote to come out according to their [pre-poll] surveys. They threaten the people who change their mind.
"They tell the people that when you vote, don't forget there's only one party. They explain to the people that there are three people you can vote for: Chea Sim, Heng Samrin, Hun Sen. We try to explain to the people differently," said a Cambodian election monitor in Battambang. (36)
In some cases the thumbprint campaign has been backed up by more overt threats and intimidation from local officials. In early April a farmer in Kampot who had previously been pressured by local officials to thumbprint a document showing his support for the CPP decided to go to the local opening of the Reastr Niyum Party of Ung Huot, where he received gifts of 7,000 riel (about U.S. $2), a hat, and a T-shirt. The following day he was threatened by the commune chief, who told him and six others in the same village who had attended the Reastr Niyum rally that they were not allowed to wear the party T-shirts or hats. About a week later the man went to a school inauguration in his village, in which he received a gift of a package of monosodium glutamate (MSG) from CPP representatives. At that point the commune chief told him he had to make a choice between the two parties and threatened violence against the man when he refused to do so. That evening, when the man went home, the commune chief was waiting in front of his house with an AK47. The man stayed away from his house until the commune chief eventually left. Later that night, and the next morning, the commune chief returned, both times threatening to kill the man.(37)
In some instances, the recruitment has been targeted specifically at district-level FUNCINPEC officials. For example, in mid-April, approximately seventy FUNCINPEC district officials from several provinces were gathered at Hun Sen's suburban residence at Tuol Kraseng, with the understanding that they were going to meet the Second Prime Minister. Participants were asked to thumbprint a document supporting the CPP and afterwards Hun Sen personally distributed packages to each containing a sarong, scarf, CPP T-shirt, and U.S. $200. After the meeting some attendees were pressured to sign up other FUNCINPEC members for the CPP, and some were threatened with violence if they did not follow through.(38)
In addition to selective recruitment and house-to-house solicitation, large numbers of people have been registered for the CPP at mass gatherings in the provinces when CPP leaders visit to make speeches and distribute "gifts." The entire civil service apparatus as well as military leaders for the province -- from provincial authorities down to commune and village chiefs -- may be assembled for such occasions, when each attendee is registered and thumbprinted as a CPP member and receives gifts such as sarongs, money (as much as 20,000 riel or about US $5), and packets of MSG, widely used in cooking. Hun Sen has denied that the CPP is coercing the population to sign up with the party: "The reason for getting the thumbprints is that after the people got the donation, we want to check it really reached them," he said.(39)
In addition to known opposition members, groups that may be singled out for surveillance and pressure from the CPP include communities in which local CPP group leaders are not sure whether they will be able to deliver the vote. These include:
All of these groups are seen as potential votes for the opposition. The CPP either pressures them to vote CPP or attempts to exclude them from the process altogether; for example by neglecting to include them in voter registration. Some of the more recent returnees may be too intimidated to register. "I came back to Cambodia in December because Sam Rainsy was in Phnom Penh then," said an opposition journalist who fled to Thailand after the coup. "It seemed the election was coming soon and I wanted to continue publication of my newspaper. I thought the United Nations and human rights organizations would guarantee our safety. But after I got back I felt more afraid than before." In March, he said, he received a death threat over the telephone.(49)
Elections in 1998: a Khmer Rouge Defector's Viewpoint
A former division commander in the Khmer Rouge's armed forces, the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea, defected with about 10,000 villagers in late 1996. During the UNTAC-sponsored elections in 1993, his superiors prohibited him and the soldiers and civilians under him to register, although many people followed the campaign through UNTAC radio. "This time the people have the right to vote — they had the right before but no one ordered us to register and vote," he said. "But this time I worry that the election will not be free and fair without UNTAC here."
He now remains unofficially in charge of seventeen villages, with a population of about 5,200 people, in a remote area neglected by the government in terms of services. Even though the area is technically under the administration of government-appointed district officials, the former commander says the local people follow him, not the district chief.
"They rarely see local authorities here — they're afraid to come here because it's always been a Khmer Rouge area," he said. "In the past we've had no assistance from the government [since defecting] — only one NGO has helped us. No political party has helped us, no authorities have helped us. Because of lack of water, many people had to move away. People were starving, eating wild roots. So we see the big parties as the same — they don't take care of the people."
Knowing that his opinion will be influential with the people who defected with him, the former commander says he will carefully evaluate the candidates and parties before deciding how to vote. "The people in power now have weapons and don't respect human rights. When they come here to campaign they can say what they want but it's different when they leave. So I need to take a look at their past history: they can change what they say any minute and make different promises to people, but they can't change what they have done in the past."
"I will also observe how my people feel — which political party they like. If most of my people follow one political party and it's proper, I'll follow the majority. But if people seem to be making the wrong decision, I will have a discussion with them to give them my opinion. I'll sit down with them and discuss the pros and cons of various parties. But ultimately it's up to them. If they vote differently from me that's their decision — I won't accuse them afterwards."
As for electoral attitudes in his area, he says that many of the villagers feel that "the mango and the orange are the same — they're both sour. The big political parties come from the same fruit — they're not so different from each other. The small political parties are not so important." However, he notes that there is some interest in opposition politician Sam Rainsy, whom people have heard about on Voice of America radio broadcasts. "They like him because he's new. They've ridden in both of the old vehicles before and know how it feels. Sam Rainsy is like a new car. They know if Sam Rainsy wins he will not gain full power — because he's not military and doesn't control weapons. The big parties won't allow him to win." But even if the candidate he votes for does not win, he says, "It doesn't matter. I will vote for whoever is right, even if they might lose. That will show the world that even if you don't have guns or military power you can gain some of the vote…one dictatorship party cannot progress — there needs to be a challenge from another party to make progress."
Although they live in a remote area with no televisions and little access to newspapers, the villagers listen to VOA as well as Khmer Rouge Radio, when it was still on the air. "They listen to a variety of stations and compare the information they hear in order to come up with an opinion," he said. "If people hear on Phnom Penh radio that the Khmer Rouge are doing something, then they turn to the Khmer Rouge channel to hear the other side. But most keep track of events through VOA."
As of March 1998, the former commander thought that opposition parties probably would have problems campaigning freely, and expected pressure on the defector villages from the CPP to vote a certain way. However, he said if his people experience threats or intimidation during registration or the campaign, his recommendation will be for the entire community to walk away from the election. "When it comes to that, we will have a meeting and discuss things," he said. "If they try to stop me from voting I'd probably encourage people to forget it — it wouldn't be a free and fair election — so we'd stay out of it and be independent. I don't want anyone fighting for our vote; we want to stay peaceful. We're tired of war — it's not worth it to return to war over that."
He said that he was already constantly being approached by the major parties, asking how he and his community are planning to vote. "I ignore them," he said. "I tell them I'm not involved, but still have to do more research. Then I turn around and educate my people: explaining to them what is a diamond, what is gold, what is silver, and what is tin. During my time with the Khmer Rouge, I made one big mistake. I don't want to make another big mistake, so I'm thinking this election through very carefully."
V. Problems with Voter Registration
Voter registration got off to a rocky start, with registration kits and international observers rushed off of airplanes and dispatched to the provinces, where freshly trained commune election officials muddled their way through the process. Registration, which was originally supposed to have begun on April 27 according to the election law, was pushed back three weeks because of delays in arrival of equipment and in the training of more than 2,000 mobile registration teams. The registration staff then had a month -- or two-and-a-half to three days per registration site -- to cover approximately 12,000 registration centers. As with the 1993 elections organized by UNTAC, large numbers of people turned out for voter registration, which started May 18. By June 7, with a week left in the registration period, close to four million people, or 70 percent of the estimated 5.6 million eligible voters, had registered, according to NEC Vice Chairman Kassie Neou.(50)
Despite the high turnout, Phnom Penh-based election monitors gathering information on specific registration sites around the country identified the following trends that cropped up during the first two weeks of registration:
Some of these trends during the first two weeks of registration, caused in part by the rushed pace of registration and the brief period available to train election workers, were eventually rectified by the NEC. However, given the fact that only nineteen international observers were on the ground during the registration to cover 12,000 sites, it is likely that many people thought not to be a sure vote for the CPP were deliberately left out of the process.VI. Lack of Equal Access to the Media
There is currently very little understanding in the countryside -- which constitutes 80 percent of Cambodia's population -- about the election that will be taking place in less than two months. People interviewed in the provinces by Human Rights Watch during the February-April mission said that they were aware that an election was planned for sometime this year, and they were interested in voting, although they feared the result might be a return to civil war. But most rural people had no idea what the upcoming election was for: Prime minister? Commune leader? National Assembly representative? Most were not even familiar with the Khmer term for National Assembly representative, as the highest official that they have regular contact with is their local commune leader. "The people are afraid that there is a big computer that will know how they vote -- these kind of rumors are going around," said a Cambodian human rights worker in Kampot. "People know that there are powerful computers in Cambodia now and believe that if they don't vote for the right party it can be detected."(54)
A Cambodian who heads a local NGO in Battambang commented:
It's very difficult for people who like the opposition party. They feel worried, like during the coup. Even when UNTAC was in Cambodia there were still grenade attacks and political violence. If they hear something about the opposition in the newspaper or VOA they keep it in their heart but don't talk about it with other people. But there's no news in the remote areas about opposition parties. Some people stay quiet for now - they'll wait for the election and then decide. Some villagers with low education have no way no think about the election. If the CPP puts pressure on them, they may vote, but they don't understand about democracy or human rights. People don't know how to complain. (55)
The lack of basic voter education obviously ties in with the lack of equal access to the broadcast media by the opposition parties. This cannot be solved by token efforts proposed by the NEC, such as providing five-minute television and radio time slots for each of the thirty-nine political parties -- more than thirty of which are CPP satellites or allies(56) -- during the one-month campaign period only. In addition, NGOs that had previously provided round table discussions and debate programs on topics such as democracy and human rights on television and radio are now facing more stringent pre-broadcast screening of their programs by the Ministry of Information, as well as inflated rates to purchase air time, and the amount of time per approved NGO has been cut back from one to two hours a week to twenty minutes.
The opposition continues to have virtually no access to broadcast media. Political coverage on all six television stations and most of the twelve radio stations is dominated by coverage of Hun Sen and CPP allies. There was no coverage by the broadcast media of Prince Ranariddh's return in March after nine months in exile, which by any definition was news. At the same time, however, in the days preceding Ranariddh's first trial, all six Cambodian televisions stations devoted peak hours to broadcasting video footage damaging to FUNCINPEC that was apparently shot by Ranariddh loyalists during the coup. By showing only FUNCINPEC activity during the fighting, the programs offered a biased view on the eve of the trial and also jeopardized the security of people shown in the films, some of whom had not fled the country after the coup.
In a review of newscasts of three of the main television stations during the month of May, for example, there were 170 appearances by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and sixty-eight by the new First Prime Minister Ung Huot.(57) Prince Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy each had five appearances, all of which were accompanied by negative comments except for their individual audiences with the King, which received no political commentary. Son Sann Party President Son Soubert was not featured at all. On a party basis, then, the CPP appeared 448 times, Ung Huot's party ninety-one times, FUNCINPEC nine, and Sam Rainsy Party five.(58)
The major opposition parties have made repeated attempts since 1994 to obtain licenses to open radio stations. While the Son Sann Party was finally granted a license in May 1998 after submitting six requests over the previous four years, the party says it lacks time and money to launch a station before the elections because all of their broadcasting equipment was stolen during the coup. FUNCINPEC's application for a new radio license is currently stalled at the Ministry of Commerce. Even if it is eventually approved it is doubtful whether the new station could be up and running in advance of the campaign. (59)
The National Election Commission issued media regulations on May 26. These cover only the thirty-day campaign period that ends July 24, ignoring the CPP's domination of the airwaves prior to the official campaign. During the campaign period each party will be provided daily five-minute slots on state-owned National Radio of Cambodia and the government television station, TV-Kampuchea. In addition, each party will receive five minutes on each of fifteen nationally-broadcast political party roundtables. During the campaign, the state news agency, Agence Khmer de Presse, will publish a daily election newspaper, allocating each party one page a day at no charge.(60) All broadcast and print media in regard to the election campaign must be first approved by the NEC. This essentially gives the CPP-dominated body the right to pre-publication censorship, in violation of Cambodia's constitution and 1995 press law.(61)
The regulations will make it even more difficult for opposition parties to compete with the CPP's disproportionate influence over the broadcast media. Non-state owned media outlets, i.e. those owned by political parties or by private companies, will be prohibited from broadcasting or printing political advertisements, although they will be able to carry "unbiased" newscasts that are cleared first by the NEC. Thus opposition political party newspapers could be restricted in their dissemination of political content, and, should opposition parties finally be licensed to set up radio or television stations before the elections, as soon as the campaign begins on June 25 they then could be forced to suspend their political programming.
The question for free and fair elections is whether all parties may campaign at the same time. Right now the authorities are already campaigning. Everyone else is quiet.
—Cambodian human rights worker, Battambang, April 7, 1998.
The people are not interested in the elections because in 1993 the one who lost, took the power — it was not the result they expected. This makes them hesitate and lose confidence in voting. In 1993 the people tried very hard to go to the polls despite the danger, but now they have lost hope and confidence in the process because the last vote did not go the way they expected. Disabled solider, Kampot, April 1, 1998. The farmers are only thinking about their livelihood. If one strong man comes and builds a school, that's as far as they can think.
— International NGO worker, Prey Veng, March 2, 1998.
It's important to let the people understand about the election — that other political parties have the right to speak to the people. FUNCINPEC's only activity in much of the province is to put up a sign – but even so the house owner feels worried, and the neighbors too. —Cambodian director of a local NGO, Battambang, April 7, 1998. I heard that there would be elections this year from NGOs and from the radio. I voted last time — I was very happy to do so. This election I'm interested but also worried. I'm afraid the elections will lead to more war and the political parties will fight each other. The people will lack food and face a lot of hardship.
—Woman living in an IDP site for the last four months, Banteay Meanchey, April 8, 1998.
It's not a problem of lack of interest. Unlike developed countries, when democracy is not yet established, people are very interested in elections. They will not vote only if they feel threatened from expressing their voice or intimidated from voting their conscience but instead told to vote the way they've been instructed.
—Khmer-American candidate, Phnom Penh, April 19, 1998.
I don't think there can be any election because there are no opposition parties. If there's an opposition that joins, the elections can proceed — but that would be dependent on strong action from the international community.
—Cambodian human rights worker, Takeo, March 31, 1998.
The people in my village are as interested in the elections as in 1993 — they want to try to vote. But if any party tries to set up here, the CPP will chop the office and threaten the people. Up to now nobody knows the name of any opposition political party in my village. All anyone sees and hears is the guidelines of the CPP. I worry how the people will be able to vote freely. –Disabled veteran, Kampot, April 1, 1998. The people are worried that with the elections the violence will increase. In 1993 we had UNTAC, now its just Khmer [organizing the elections]. There's been no intimidation of parties yet. But the people are worried even though the atmosphere is okay now. They think in the future the situation will get worse—they see the fighting in Anlong Veng.
—Cambodian human rights worker, Banteay Meanchey, April 8, 1998.
VII. Lack of Neutral And Independent National Institutions to Organize and Oversee the Elections
The National Election Commission (NEC), mandated by the election law to organize, oversee, and monitor all aspects of the elections from registration of voters, parties, and candidates to ultimately verifying the accuracy of the final tally has faced controversy since its formation, with charges that it is biased towards and dominated by the CPP. The eleven-member body is composed of a president, vice president, two representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, an NGO representative, two Cambodian citizens, and representatives from each of the four political parties represented in the National Assembly. In January 1997, amid much rancor, the FUNCINPEC and BLDP seats were both filled by members of pro-CPP splinter factions of those two parties. In addition, there were allegations that bribery was involved in the selection of a pro-CPP candidate for the NGO seat, over a candidate favored by COMFREL and another NGO election monitoring group, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (COFFEL)(62). The NEC's chair, Chheng Phon, a former minister in the People's Republic of Kampuchea in the 1980s, and vice chair, Kassie Neou, director of the Cambodian Institute for Human Rights, generally have been perceived as neutral.(63)
Complaints about the composition of the NEC were submitted to the National Assembly by COMFREL, COFFEL, a student group, and several opposition members of parliament. The complaints were ignored, however, and there was no debate on the issue in the National Assembly's session on January 26, 1997, in which the NEC's composition was approved. The NEC members were officially sworn in on February 5, 1998.
Once the NEC was established it in turn recruited and hired members of provincial and commune electoral commissions (PECs and CECs), which are the bodies tasked with carrying out voter registration. They are also almost entirely composed of CPP members, and despite the NEC's initial recruitment goals as set out in the electoral regulations, have very little representation from NGOs and women.(64)
While citizens have the right to object to PEC appointments on the grounds that a nominee is ineligible, it was never made clear in the electoral regulations where and how people were to object, nor if there were any deadlines for complaints to be submitted. COMFREL protested on April 13 that the composition of at least six PECs was clearly slanted towards the CPP. Other analysts said that in several provinces, either the current CPP governors or chiefs of cabinet were appointed as president or vice president of PECs, in violation of Article 18 of the election law.(65) Pen Sovann, president of the Cambodian National Sustaining Party, filed a complaint on April 5 about the composition of the Takeo PEC. In regard to COMFREL's concerns, NEC President Chheng Phon was quoted in the press on April 14 saying that it was too late to change the composition of the PECs.(66) Pen Sovann's complaint apparently never received a response.
The lack of a functioning and independent Constitutional Council -- mandated to interpret the laws and resolve electoral disputes -- also poses an obstacle to the legitimacy of the electoral process. Opposition political party leaders, human rights and electoral monitors, and even members of the council itself have said that given the fact that the council had not been formed as of early June, there was not enough time for it to carry out its duties in regard to the elections. It should have been functioning and in place at least four months prior to the elections, and certainly by the time voter registration started on May 18, to receive registration-related complaints.
The council is made up of three appointees from the King, three from the Supreme Council of Magistracy (SCM), and three from the National Assembly. Six of the nine members -- those selected by the National Assembly and the Supreme Council of Magistracy -- are affiliated with the CPP, calling into question whether the body will be neutral or whether it will follow party directives. Opposition members have questioned the legality of the SCM's appointments on technical grounds because the SCM made its choices at a meeting chaired and convened by Cabinet Minister Sok An as "Interim Minister of Justice" in the absence of Justice Minister Chem Snguon, who was out of the country at the time. The Spokesman's Office of the Royal Government of Cambodia said in a May 19 statement that such appointments are "routine." However, the usual procedure for filling positions on an interim basis -- such as the positions of FUNCINPEC ministers when they were abroad -- is for the respective secretary of state to fill the position, which is this case would have been Justice Ministry Secretary of State Uk Vithun, a FUNCINPEC member.
Royal Appointees Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum and Son Sann did not attend the swearing-in ceremony for council members on June 2, nor the group's first "informal" meeting on June 3. Both appointees have questioned the legality and constitutionality of the council.(67) As the council's oldest member, Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum is charged with convening the first meeting of the body, in which a president is selected. However on June 2, he left the country, saying he had been pressured by top government officials to convene the body's inaugural meeting. In the absence of a functioning Constitutional Council throughout most of the electoral process, there has not been a body to assess whether the laws governing the elections and political parties are constitutional, and no avenue of appeal for political parties, candidates, or individuals rejected for registration by the NEC. (68)
VIII. The Importance of International Observers
Without neutral, independent, and functioning national institutions to oversee the elections, the United Nations agreement in April 1998 to coordinate international observers becomes even more important. However, rather than administering the elections and providing security as it did in 1993, the United Nations will only be playing a coordinating role. It has established a Joint International Observer Group made up of the heads of delegations from countries sending observers, and an electoral assistance secretariat to coordinate the observers.
During the UNTAC-administered elections of 1993, more than 400 U.N. Volunteers were assigned to work as District Electoral Supervisors -- two for each of Cambodia's twenty-one districts -- for the eight months preceding the elections. During the 1993 polling, more than 1,000 international polling station officers were dispatched to some 1,600 polling stations and twenty-one counting centers. In the 1998 elections, only 300 international monitors have been committed to observe the process, with most of them arriving in the last weeks of the campaign. They will be expected to cover more than 11,000 polling stations and 1,600 counting centers.
As of mid-June, only nineteen international electoral observers were on the ground. The two main Cambodian electoral monitoring coalitions, COFFEL and the COMFREL, have also deployed trained Cambodian observers to conduct civic education and monitor voter registration, the campaign, and polling.
Since November, international monitors from the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General in Cambodia have monitored the security of returning opposition politicians from self-exile. The mandate of these monitors, which increased in number from four to fifteen in May, does not cover monitoring of voter registration, the campaign, or polling, except in conjunction with the activities of returning politicians who request a monitoring presence. In addition, the Cambodia Office of the U.N. Center for Human Rights has six international staff working as mobile human rights monitors, to augment the work of six provincial offices of the U.N. Center, each of which is staffed by a Cambodian human rights officer and an international human rights advisor. Again, while these staffpersons will not be monitoring electoral activities per se such as the polling or ballot counting, along with Cambodian human rights organizations based in the provinces, they will provide key information about political violence and other abuses during the campaign.
In its April 2, 1998 memorandum to Cambodia's two prime ministers, the U.N. reserved the right to withdraw or suspend its activities relating to coordination and support of international observers if 1) observers were restricted in their movements, 2) political parties were blocked from campaigning or gaining equitable access to the media, 3) a general climate of intimidation thwarted fundamental freedoms to speech and assembly, or 4) the Constitutional Council was unable to exercise its authority.
Cambodia's co-prime ministers issued their own conditions for the United Nations' role in electoral observation in an April 13 letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. These conditions included statements that the U.N.'s role should not cover the post-election transfer of power, that the establishment of the Constitutional Council was a matter of national sovereignty and thus irrelevant to the electoral process, and that electoral observers must submit public statements first to the Royal Government and the National Electoral Commission for approval. Finally, the co-prime ministers stated that internationally recognized criteria should not be used to evaluate the political climate or the electoral process. While the U.N. has orally rejected these conditions, they show the government's attitude and foreshadow potential problems in regard to international electoral observation during the campaign and the post-election transition.
IX. Conclusion: Should Elections be Held Now?
Momentum has been building among the international community to continue its support for the elections as scheduled in July. Postponing elections beyond September, when the mandate of the current National Assembly expires, could necessitate the installation of an interim or caretaker government, an option that Hun Sen has flatly rejected.
On the surface everything seems in place -- at least logistically -- for elections to take place on July 26. Most donors long ago seemed to take the position that flawed elections were better than none, with some reserving the right to withdraw support if certain conditions were not eventually met, such as equal access to the media or the establishment of a credible and functioning Constitutional Council. Clearly those benchmarks and others have not been met, but there is nevertheless strong pressure to go forward with the July date.
The main problem is not one of logistics; it is the fact that the people administering the elections and controlling the population at the local level are receiving their instructions from the CPP. Voters may have had confidence in the secret ballot during the UNTAC-organized elections in 1993, but when the electoral commissions are dominated by the CPP and CPP members are registering people, monitoring their activities, and staffing the polling booths, voters may well lack confidence that their choice will indeed be secret. If people feel that their votes can be traced to themselves or even to their village, they may fear reprisals and vote accordingly.
Hun Sen has clearly been buoyed by the international support. When asked on the first day of voter registration about the possible postponement of the elections or a boycott by the opposition, Hun Sen responded: "Will more than thirty political parties and the eligible voters, who have flocked to register on the first day of voter registration, agree to wait for those people or will they proceed along their path. The path is not wanted only by them but also by the international community. The [voter registration] kits that we are using are provided by the E.U. So, I do not believe that because of that handful of people the international community will take those kits away after they have already arrived on Cambodian soil." Hun Sen added that, with the appointment of all the members of the Constitutional Council now finalized and the changing of the vote count from village to commune level, all the legal issues had been addressed and all the problems solved.(69)
A long-time international NGO worker in Battambang had a different opinion: "Last time the people learned that when they elected someone it didn't stick. After the coup no one reacted. Now we have elections - they should at least be free and fair. I don't think the people will learn anything by having a non free and fair election. The elections should be stopped now, with clear benchmarks set for donors. Ranariddh running does not make it free and fair. Others need to be able to campaign, we need real monitors -- not the Provincial Election Commission -- and people need to have a chance to object and to demand representation."(70)
1. Areas visited were Prey Veng, Takeo, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kampot, Kep, Ratanakiri, and Phnom Penh.
2. Before the council can begin to address any appeals, it must first overcome its inability to achieve a quorum in order to meet and then organize itself by writing its own internal rules as well as a sub-decree to cover the organization and functioning of the council's general secretariat.
3. Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Independent, Neutre, Pacifique, et Cooperatif.
4. The constitutionality of installing Ung Huot as a prime minister without removing Ranariddh was questionable on several grounds, including the fact that the National Assembly lacked a quorum for its Permanent Committee, which sets the body's agenda, and the National Assembly vice president, who is required to approve the appointment of new prime ministers, was in exile in Bangkok.
5. Human Rights Watch interview with opposition party member, Takeo, March 31, 1998.
6. Human Rights Watch interview with opposition party activist, Battambang, April 7, 1998.
7. Human Rights Watch interview with FUNCINPEC activist, Prey Veng, March 20, 1998.
8. As the level of political violence against FUNCINPEC officials began to rise, the pro-government Reasmey Kampuchea newspaper cited a report from a government intelligence unit that resistance general Nhek Bun Chay had sent terrorist groups, code-named "Black Panther" and "Killer Cat," to infiltrate Phnom Penh. The story said that terrorist groups were in close contact with covert forces that had remained in Phnom Penh since July 1997, with orders to "carry out acts of sabotage, assassinate all the CPP cabinet ministers and CPP-supporting FUNCINPEC MPs, and create all manner of insecurity ahead of the upcoming election…The two groups of terrorists are under the vigilant watch of the competent authorities." Ba Sel, "Terrorists Sent to Create Insecurity in Phnom Penh," Reasmey Kampuchea, February 1, 1998, FBIS-EAS-98-037.
9. On October 1, 1997, Sao Sim, a popular FUNCINPEC nominee for commune elections, and four of his relatives were systematically gunned down by the commander of the commune militia in their house, where they had gathered to celebrate a religious holiday (Pchum Ben) in Kirivong District, Takeo. As neighbors were attending to the two shooting victims who were still alive, the militia chief and his accomplice threw two more grenades, finishing off the wounded. No effort was made to arrest the militia chief, despite the fact that he stayed in the village for several days after the massacre before moving to another district to stay with relatives. See "Memorandum to the Royal Government of Cambodia," Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, May 13, 1998.
10. Human Rights Watch interview with three Sam Rainsy Party activists from Takeo at a party meeting in Phnom Penh, February 28, 1998.
11. Human Rights Watch interview with Sam Rainsy Party activist from Kompong Cham at a party meeting in Phnom Penh, February 28, 1998.
12. Peter Sainsbury and Chea Sotheacheath, "Opposition campaign forced underground," Phnom Penh Post, February 13-26, 1998.
13. Human Rights Watch interviews with villagers and members of Wat Dantung, Kampot, March 3, 1998.
14. Human Rights Watch interview with human rights worker based in Phnom Penh, May 15, 1998.
15. Human Rights Watch interview with FUNCINPEC official, Kep, March 2, 1998.
16. Human Rights Watch interview with FUNCINPEC member, Kampot town, April 1, 1998.
17. Human Rights Watch interview, Kompong Trach District, Kampot, March 3, 1998.
18. Human Rights Watch interview with Cambodian human rights worker, Kampot, March 3, 1998.
19. Human Rights Watch interview with Son Sann Party activist, Takeo, March 31, 1998.
20. Elizabeth Moorthy, "Recent murders not thought political," Phnom Penh Post, May 8-21, 1998.
21. Human Rights Watch interview with FUNCINPEC members from Svay Rieng, FUNCINPEC headquarters, Phnom Penh, April 2, 1998.
22. Human Rights Watch interview with Phnom Penh-based human rights worker, June 5, 1998.
23. Human Rights Watch interview with FUNCINPEC candidate, April 20, 1998.
24. Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, "Memorandum to the Royal Government of Cambodia," May 13, 1998.
25. Stew Magnuson and Saing Soenthrith, "Paper Blames Shooting on Gov't Officials," Cambodia Daily, June 10, 1998.
26. See Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, "Memorandum to the Royal Government of Cambodia," May 13, 1998; and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Grenade attack in Phnom Penh 30 March 1997 and Extrajudicial executions 2-7 July 1997: An assessment of the investigations," Geneva, May 13, 1998.
27. Post staff, "CPP master plan for poll victory," Phnom Penh Post, June 5-19, 1998.
28. Human Rights Watch interview, Battambang, April 7, 1998.
29. Human Rights Watch interview, Takeo, March 31, 1998.
30. Articles 71 and 124 of the electoral law prohibit intimidation of citizens or vote buying.
31. Human Rights Watch interview, Battambang, April 6, 1998.
32. Agence France Presse, "Cambodia's July elections threatened by intimidation: UN rights envoy," May 13, 1998.
33. Eric Pape, "Rights climate grim, despite PM's words," Phnom Penh Post, May 8-21, 1998.
34. The group leader's responsibilities are outlined in the book as: "1) Know the exact number of members in the group. The group leader and the members must know each other; 2) Teach the members in the group to love and support the CPP; 3) Direct all members in the group to register to vote; 4) Make sure that all members of the group cast their votes, know how to cast their vote and vote for the CPP." Party members have the following responsibilities: "Each member must promise to vote for the party and to mobilize his or her family or neighbors to vote for the party; 2) Each member of the party must register to vote; 3) Party members and party supporters must vote and know to really vote for the party."
35. Human Rights Watch interview with Phnom Penh based human rights worker, May 15, 1998.
36. Human Rights Watch interview with Cambodian election monitor, Battambang, April 7, 1998.
37. Human Rights Interview with Phnom Penh based human rights worker, May, 1998.
38. Human Rights Watch interview with a Phnom Penh-based human rights worker, June 5, 1998.
39. Reuters, "Cambodia's Hun Sen Denies Vote-Pledge Driver," May 14, 1998.
40. Report of the CPP's Non-Government Organization Monitoring Commission, Meeting on October 23, 1997.
41. Human Rights Watch interview with Cambodian academic, Phnom Penh, February 18, 1998.
42. Human Rights Watch interview with Phnom Penh-based human rights investigator, February 1998.
43. One instance where relations temporarily broke down between election officials and a Khmer Rouge defector community occurred in June, when six Provincial Election Commission officials in Kampot were allegedly detained for five days by Khmer Rouge defectors who were unhappy that only one registration site had been opened in their commune. After the election officials agreed to open two additional sites, they were released unharmed. See Lor Chandara, "Election Officials Held Hostage for Five Days," Cambodia Daily, June 10, 1998.
44. Human Rights Watch interview with refugee resettlement worker, Banteay Meanchey, April 8, 1998.
45. Eric Pape and Samreth Sopha, "One Khmer in 100 now displaced by strife," Phnom Penh Post, April 24-May 7, 1998.
46. Human Rights Watch interview with refugee resettlement worker, Banteay Meanchey, April 8, 1998.
47. Human Rights Watch interviews with returnees who have encountered harassment or threats, as well as with human rights workers in Phnom Penh and Banteay Meanchey.
48. Kay Johnson and Marc Levy, "Little Time for Refugees to Register," Cambodia Daily, June 1, 1998.
49. Human Rights Watch interview with opposition journalist, Phnom Penh, April 19, 1998.
50. Kassie Neou, open letter providing an update on the status of preparations for Cambodia's elections, June 8, 1998.
51. Kay Johnson, "CPP Takes Note of Registration Numbers," Cambodia Daily, June 4, 1998; and Kay Johnson, "Registration Cards Returned with CPP Message Included," Cambodia Daily, June 10, 1998.
52. COMFREL News Release, "Statement: The Voter Registration Process," June 3, 1998.
53. According to the election regulations, members of ethnic minorities can register to vote if an applicant can prove that either their mother or their father was born in Cambodia. "Regulations and Procedures for the Election of Members of the National Assembly in the Kingdom of Cambodia," Draft, March 1998.
54. Human Rights Watch interview with Cambodian human rights worker, Kampot, March 2, 1998.
55. Human Rights Watch interview with Cambodian NGO worker, Battambang, April 7, 1998.
56. By the CPP's own admission it has political alliances with as many as thirteen of the political parties running in the election. See "CPP master plan for poll victory," Phnom Penh Post, June 5-19, 1998.
57. An example is a seventy-five-minute speech on May 15 by Hun Sen in Barary District, Kompong Thom, broadcast on National Radio on May 15. The FBIS summary noted that Hun Sen talked about "his various contributions to the rehabilitation of the locality; listing the wells, schools, and other facilities he built for Baray; boasting about his win-win policy that crushed the Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng…reminding audience of the good deed that he and his friends in CPP did in saving the nation and people from Khmer Rouge in 1979; …talking at length about his order to speed up building of necessary infrastructures, including vocational center with fifty sewing machines, in Baray district;…refuting charges that CPP is intimidating people and forcing them to become its members; instructing party authorities to sack any CPP officials who intimidate people; challenging poll watchdogs to show evidence of irregularities; praising CPP chapter in Kompong Thom and other generous donors for contributing to the constructions he come to inaugurate; and listing his gifts to monks and locals."
58. Human Rights Watch interview with sources in Phnom Penh, June 4, 1998.
59. Prior to the coup FUNCINPEC had operated a radio station (FM 90) and a television station (Channel 9) under licenses granted during the UNTAC period. The FUNCINPEC radio and television stations were surrounded by CPP police and soldiers during the coup. At the radio station, CPP police and soldiers systematically dismantled the equipment and moved it to the Ministry of Information. The television station was apparently looted in the first days after the coup.
60. Report by NEC Vice Chair Kassie Neou, open letter providing an update on the status of preparations for Cambodia's elections, June 8, 1998.
61. Another issue in regard to freedom of expression was yet another draft sub-decree (or prakas, in Khmer) that was put forward by the Council of Ministers in early 1998. This would not require approval from the National Assembly, only the signature of Minister of Information Ieng Mouly. This prakas outlines various requirements for prospective editors, including a mental health certificate, educational qualifications, and a three million riel deposit (about U.S.$3,000). The educational requirements are rigorous for Cambodia: proof of having graduated from secondary school, three years of professional training, a university degree and three months of training; or three years of writing or five years of photography experience. The prakas would also authorize the Ministry of Information to seek nullification of a visa already granted to a foreign correspondent. The prakas has been criticized as unconstitutional and unnecessary because the 1995 press law already outlines the requirements for opening a newspaper.
62. "Prospects for Free, Fair Elections Viewed," Phnom Penh Post, January 2-15, 1998.
63. The neutrality of the NEC was further called into question in early March when NEC President Chheng Phon joined the two co-prime ministers in secretly signing a $25.8 million contract with a private company to conduct the elections. The deal with Ciccone Calcografica SA (Argentine) and Malam Systems Ltd. (Israeli) would contract out voter and candidate registration (which the EU is handling), ballot printing (which Japan is covering) and a computer system for voter registration and balloting results (Australia's contribution). Because of NEC Chairman Chheng Phon's involvement in signing the contract, several opposition politicians called for his resignation. Chheng Phon defended the contract by saying: "It's like a spare wheel. If a tire bursts, you need another one…Ciccone will not replace European aid. The spare wheel will not replace the ancient wheel…But we had to take an insurance, if they [Australia, Japan, EU] were late. That is just insurance policy. There is confusion. It's not to replace the other aid." (Marie-Christine Courtes, "Caught between a hammer and an anvil," Phnom Penh Post, March 27-April 9, 1998.)
64. "Regulations and Procedures for the Election of the Members of the National Assembly in the Kingdom of Cambodia," Draft, March 1998.
65. Human Rights Watch interview with foreign electoral advisor to the NEC, April 20, 1998.
66. Kay Johnson, "Lobbyists Fear CPP Bias on Provincial Poll Commissions," Cambodia Daily, April 14, 1998.
67. See Rachel Watson, "Son Sann Slams Legal Body," Cambodia Daily, May 26, 1998; and Reuters, "Key Cambodia panel gets off to controversial start," June 3, 1998.
68. In Tam's Democratic Party and the Republic Democracy Khmer Party (REDEK) were both rejected for registration by the Ministry of Interior and have protested their exclusion from the electoral process and the fact that they have been unable to make an appeal to the Constitutional Council. (See Statement by Cambodia's Democratic Party, April 21, 1998; and Statement by REDEK Party President Kim Kethavy, May 22, 1998.)
69. National Radio of Cambodia, May 18, 1998, FBIS-EAS-98-138.
70. Human Rights Watch interview with NGO worker, Battambang, April 7, 1998.