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US Lawmakers Concerned About Upcoming Cambodian Elections - 2003-06-11


Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have expressed renewed concern about the upcoming parliamentary elections in Cambodia. That was the subject of a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill, where one expert urged Congress and the Bush administration to put more pressure on the Cambodian government to ensure that the July 27 elections are free and fair.

A number of questions hang over the July 27 vote in Cambodia, the main one asks if the ruling Cambodia People's Party (CPP) can demonstrate it is able to conduct a free, fair and transparent election.

Incidents of violence in recent months have led many, including Daniel Calingaert of the International Republican Institute (IRI), to conclude this is increasingly unlikely. IRI has played a key advisory role in Cambodia since the United Nations-supervised operation in 1993, and has observed three elections.

Mr. Calingaert says his organization is, in his words, "deeply troubled" by preparations for the upcoming vote. "While the election procedures and administration provide the makings of a technically competent election, the political environment is marred by violence, intimidation, and pervasive restrictions on political expression."

Mr. Calingaert cites murders of opposition party activists, and intimidation including burning of houses and tearing down of political party signboards. And he says the National Election Committee and provincial electoral bodies remain dominated by the CPP, casting doubt on how impartial the election can be.

Responding to questions from Ohio Democratic Congressman Steve Chabot, Mr. Calingaert recalled the previous parliamentary voting in 1998, which he described as "deeply flawed."

He says Secretary of State Colin Powell should use the opportunity of the ASEAN Regional Forum meetings in Phnom Penh on June 18 to meet publicly with parliamentary opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, to send a strong message to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"The [Powell] visit will take place less than six weeks before the elections and will be used by Prime Minister Hun Sen to showcase international support for his regime," says Mr. Calingaert. "Unless Secretary Powell meets Cambodia's parliamentary opposition leader, the visit may get used to bolster CPP's electoral prospects. In addition, Secretary Powell should deliver a strong public message of concern about the climate of impunity and the flaws in the election process."

Mr. Calingaert and other IRI officials were in Cambodia in January and April to assess preparations for the July elections.

Among the recommendations from the last visit was the loosening of CPP controls on the media, including provision of radio licenses to the party of Sam Rainsy, and allowing the Voice of America and the U.S. funded Radio Free Asia access to local "FM" radio frequencies.

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