Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hun Sen welcomes international investigation

 Hun Sen talks to Media at Stung Meanchey on July 31, 2013. Photo: Quoc Viet/RFA

Prime Minister Hun Sen said this afternoon he would “welcome” an international investigation into the contested results of Sunday’s election.

The remarks, his first public comments since the election, came after opposition leader Sam Rainsy announced the party had done far better than the preliminary government results had suggested and called for the premier to step down.

“For the sake of free and fair elections, I welcome the international community, all political parties and the NEC to investigate this,” he told reporters, while speaking at the opening of a bridge in Stung Meanchey.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has called for a joint committee made up of representatives of all parties and international monitors to review the results of Sunday’s election, which gave the ruling Cambodian People’s Party 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55.

The government had previously shot down such a proposal.

Hun Sen also said he would be happy to speak with Rainsy, saying “the CPP had an open heart to talk to the CNRP.”

Shooting down rumours that he had fled, Hun Sen stressed that he would not “leave the country when my people are suffering” and said that no one from the party had fired him from the position of premier.

Cambodia: Time for a transformation?

By Jul 31, 2013
But would things change if the opposition were able to form a government? asks Asia Sentinel’s Caroline Hughes

A strong showing for Cambodia’s opposition in Sunday’s election suggests a rekindling of democratic hopes in the country. Commentators have suggested that increasing numbers of young voters – a networked and Facebooked post-war generation – have swung the vote away from the authoritarian Cambodian People’s Party for the first time in a decade.

However, the CPP has never enjoyed the overwhelming majorities that governments in neighboring Malaysia or Singapore are used to. It is the CPP’s landslide win in the 2008 election – at the height of a boom, against a divided opposition, and with a border dispute with Thailand threatening to break into warfare – that was unusual. Aside from that election, the voters have always been fairly evenly split between pro- and anti-CPP blocs.
Sam Rainsy speaks at a rally at CNRP rally at party headquarters in Phnom Penh Wednedsay. Pic: AP.

The reason for this is that the postwar settlement in Cambodia, ushered in by a United Nations peacekeeping mission, has divided Cambodia into a nation of haves and have-nots. The country’s economic reconstruction has been achieved through wholesale privatization of land, water, forests and fisheries, minerals, beaches and other resources. Since the free-market reforms that preceded the UN peacekeeping mission, the majority of the population, which engages in labor intensive and low-tech forms of rice farming for survival, has seen their access to resources such as water, timber, fish and fertilizer sharply restricted.

At the same time, a series of land laws has not resulted in security of land tenure for many Cambodians. Land disputes remain a major source of social discontent, especially in border areas where military units sustain claims to large areas of land previously used for bases or maneuvers, and in urban areas where rapidly increasing property values have led to violent evictions of urban poor communities.

At the same time, inadequate health services prompt the poor to sell land to pay for medical care, and a corrupt judiciary invariably finds for the richer party in land disputes. Because of these factors, inequality in landholdings, negligible in the late 1980s when Cambodia emerged from a socialist regime, has become one of the most skewed in Asia.

As in the former Soviet Union, free market reforms in Cambodia have produced a class of wealthy and politically influential Cambodian tycoons. Many of the most powerful initially made their fortunes from state-awarded monopolies over import and export of goods such as petrol, pharmaceuticals and luxury liquor brands. They currently benefit from a development strategy that has seen millions of hectares of land awarded to developers for establishing plantations, displacing local people and ignoring customary rights to resources.
Continue reading at Asia Sentinel

Phnom Penh’s Chief Monk Visits Scene of Election Violence

Phnom Penh’s chief monk, the Venerable Khim Sum, visited a pagoda in Meanchey district Tuesday where rioting broke out during Sunday’s election and told monks there to refrain from engaging in political protests.
Violence outside the pagoda began at the polling station in the primary school next door when angry voters complained they could not find their names on the voter list and were not being helped by a National Election Committee staffer.

The scene then descended into anarchy when a man allegedly attacked a monk who was among the protesters. Members of a 100-strong military police force then fired more than 10 shots into the air to disperse the protesters, who continued unabated by smashing two military police trucks and setting them alight.

Monks leaving the meeting with Khim Sum said Tuesday the municipality’s chief monk had told those gathered they should refrain from engaging in such protests.

“I regret that I took part [in the protest] but what I was trying to do was help the people,” said Khuon Saray, 38, adding that Khim Sum had held up photographs of the protest to show the monks.

“Before we left the room the chief monk said we should not get involved in politics and the chief monk showed pictures of the protest,” he said. “I am very concerned about my safety and I must protect myself.”
Bun Theun, chief of the Stung Meanchey pagoda, said Khim Sum visited not to defrock the monks who participated in the protest and rioting, but to advise them on how best to live like good Buddhists.

“There is no plan to do that and we didn’t bring up the issue,” he said, when asked if any of the monks at the pagoda would be defrocked. “The chief monk just organized a meeting and advised the monks on the dharma chanting and to worship the Buddha.”

Yen Rotanak Sotheavy, 29—the monk who was attacked—and In Vuthy, 25, are currently staying with a local human rights NGO because they fear for their personal safety.

Speaking by phone, In Vuthy said local authorities had closely watched his movements the day after the election.

“I love my nation and I didn’t have any intention to cause the violent act. I just want to see Cambodian people unite together,” In Vuthy said, adding that he did not take part in the rioting that ensued.
Military police officials said Monday they were investigating the riots.

Military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said on his Facebook page Tuesdsay that people who destroy public property “must be sentenced” under the law.

Brig. Gen. Tito also said by telephone that Lieutenant General Vong Pisen, deputy commander of the National Military Police, has been appointed to help Lieutenant General Ya Kim Y, municipal military police commander, with maintaining order in the city.

“I am not being replaced by Lt. Gen. Vong Pisen,” Lt. Gen. Kim Y said. “But if some violations happen, like the violence at the [Stung Meanchey] polling station, then of course we will get help from our National Military Police.”

Cambodia: Ruling Party Orchestrated Vote Fraud

Donors Should Demand Independent Investigation of Election Irregularities
July 31, 2013
(New York) – The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) appears to have been involved in electoral fraud in Cambodia’s July 28, 2013 national elections, according to residents and ruling party officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch. All allegations of election fraud and other irregularities, including bias in the election machinery, should be promptly investigated by an independent commission.

The CPP-controlled National Election Commission (NEC) released preliminary results showing that the ruling party won 68 seats and the opposition Cambodian National Reconciliation Party (CNRP) won 55. Based on the same results, the CPP won approximately 49 percent of the national vote, while the CNRP won approximately 44 percent. The opposition has claimed widespread fraud and called for the creation of an independent expert body that includes the United Nations and nongovernmental groups to examine the results and address irregularities.

“Senior ruling party officials appear to have been involved in issuing fake election documents and fraudulently registering voters in multiple provinces,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “And people from the party seem to have been turning up in places where they clearly don’t live and insisting on voting – not to mention the many other claims of fraud around the country.”

A CPP village chief, who asked for anonymity to protect his security, gave Human Rights Watch an insider’s account of how ruling party authorities in his district engaged in electoral fraud by issuing fraudulent “Identity Certificates for Elections” (ICE) before the July 28 elections. The certificates allow people whose names appear on voter registration lists to vote even though they otherwise lack proper identification documents.
The village chief, whose local CPP superiors worked under instructions from a CPP Center-Level Work Team headed by an army general and a CPP Central Committee member, told Human Rights Watch that his immediate party superiors directly oversaw the illegal issuance of certificates. He explained that a member of the general’s team gave the instructions to issue certificates in the names of villagers who were on the voter registration rolls but were known either to be dead or to have long left their original homes.

The work team member allegedly arranged for soldiers and their wives from an army division stationed in the province to be photographed for certificates. These were then issued by CPP commune and Interior Ministry officials, who allegedly conspired in the scheme to falsely certify these soldiers and their wives as local residents eligible to vote in the commune where these officials were responsible for voter registration. One media report, which is consistent with other accounts, recounted villager descriptions of army-organized voting by thousands of soldiers shipped across provincial boundaries in military vehicles to vote in parts of Siem Reap province where none of them had ever been seen before.

“Issuing hundreds of thousands of fake identity certificates was allegedly one of several key ways the ruling party organized large scale election fraud,” Adams said. “Now, a CPP village chief has confirmed that this happened in his area.”

In another case, villagers in Kandal province, adjacent to the capital, Phnom Penh, described to Human Rights Watch efforts by senior CPP officials to vote in more than one place. When confronted by local residents, the party officials threatened them with arrest and later returned and made death threats.

Numerous residents of Koki Thom commune in Kandal interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that on election day, Ngo Sovan, whose business card states that he is “minister delegate attached to the prime minister” and specifies that he is a secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, arrived in their commune to vote. He was accompanied by other members of the party’s grassroots strengthening team assigned to the area, as well as by Heng Seksa, whose card says he is a “deputy secretary-general of the Royal Cambodian Government,” and an entourage of dozens of government officials from Phnom Penh.

The villagers protested the group’s attempt to vote there, asserting to local electoral authorities that none of the people were local residents. The local electoral authorities, whom the villagers described as linked to the ruling party, nevertheless allowed the group to cast ballots.

Ngo Sovan’s team included several national level civil servants. According to the national voter registration list compiled from official data on the National Election Committee website and examined by Human Rights Watch, Ngo Sovan was registered to vote in three places. The first (voter registration number R-1424108) is at his known residence in Phnom Penh, where he is a prominent figure and resident, according to local residents Human Rights Watch interviewed.

Ngo Sovan is also registered in the provinces of Kandal (voter registration number R-6132454) and Svay Rieng (voter registration number R-6851267). He heads ruling party election grassroots strengthening or work teams in both provinces. In Kandal, Ngo Sovan also ran as a CPP candidate for the National Assembly.

Heng Seksa, who accompanied Ngo Sovan in Kandal, was registered to vote in both Phnom Penh (voter registration number R-6354916) and Kandal (voter registration number R-6132299), according to official data from the NEC website.

Villagers told Human Rights Watch that members of the entourage threatened them with arrest during the confrontation over whether the group’s members would be allowed to vote. After polls closed, a contingent of “flying tiger” motorcycle police arrived in the area. Villagers told Human Rights Watch that the police said they were looking for “ringleaders” of the “disturbances” that had occurred when the ruling party group’s voter registration was challenged.

The morning after the elections, some members of the group reappeared in the village along with others, including one armed man in civilian clothes, who attempted to identify and apprehend an alleged “ringleader.” Two witnesses told Human Rights Watch that members of the group threatened to kill villagers who refused to provide information on the whereabouts of the alleged ringleader, whom the group also vowed to kill and who has gone into hiding.

“The multiple voting scheme suggests the possibility of systematic election fraud by the CPP and raises serious questions about the credibility of the election,” Adams said. “Since the National Election Committee and local election commissions are under the ruling party’s control, influential governments and donors should demand independent investigations into these and other credible allegations of election related irregularities. Without this, it’s hard to see how Cambodian voters can have confidence in the legitimacy of the elections and the new government that results.”

Cambodian deputy PM lauds good ties with China

July 31, 2013
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Tea Banh on Tuesday hailed good friendship relations and cooperation with China in all fields and believed that the ties would be further enhanced for mutual benefits.

"I am very satisfied with Cambodia-China friendship relations and believe that our ties will grow stronger from day to day," Tea Banh said during a meeting with newly-designated Ambassador of China to Cambodia Bu Jianguo.

The two countries have very good ties in all rounds of cooperation, particularly politics, economics and military, he said.

The minister also thanked China for providing a great amount of aid to Cambodia for social and economic development.

Meanwhile, he told Bu that Cambodia had successfully organized a general election on Sunday and according to the initial results, the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen got the victory.

Bu expressed congratulations to the CPP for its victory in the election and said she observed that the election process was conducted smoothly and peacefully.

The Ambassador said her diplomatic mission to Cambodia was made in the year that Cambodia and China have been celebrating the 55th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations and the Cambodia-China Year of Friendship.

She vowed to further strengthen and expand cooperation in all fields between the two countries for mutual benefits.

Cambodia-China ties reached top level of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation in December 2010, and during the visit of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to China in April this year, the two nations agreed to set up an inter-governmental coordination committee to jointly implement the Action Plan on the Implementation of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation.

Bu succeeded ex-Ambassador Pan Guangxue, whose three-year diplomatic mission in Cambodia came to an end last month.

She presented her credentials to His Majesty Norodom Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia, on July 19.

New Zealand Governor-General to visit Southeast Asia

July 31, 2013

New Zealand Governor-General Jerry Mateparae will visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos next month to bolster trade and development links in Southeast Asia.

The trip was an opportunity to reinforce strong and friendly relations with the three nations and support New Zealand's significant engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Mateparae said in a statement Wednesday.

"Southeast Asia is one of the world's most dynamic economic growth areas and ASEAN of which Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are all members is New Zealand's third largest trading partner," he said.

Mateparae would arrive in Vietnam on Aug. 3, where he would witness the signing of the second phase of the Comprehensive Partnership Action Plan - a plan to promote bilateral links in sectors such as trade and business, science and technology, agriculture, education, defense, policing, development assistance and customs cooperation and a Double Taxation Agreement.

In Cambodia from Aug. 8, he would undertake a series of engagements to highlight New Zealand's development assistance to Cambodia.

The three-day visit to Laos from Aug. 12, would see the two countries mark 50 years of diplomatic relations and Mateparae would see New Zealand-supported operations to clear unexploded ordnance.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Repost: Vietnamese In Cambodia Unnerved By Upheaval

The New York Times
Published: August 03, 1997
When fighting broke out during last month's coup, some of the first people to seize their belongings and flee Phnom Penh were ethnic Vietnamese. They knew what might happen to them if the capital dissolved into chaos.

Ancient rulers and ancient enemies of Cambodia, the Vietnamese have often in recent decades found themselves the scapegoats for the country's troubles, and sometimes the targets of massacres.

As many as 500,000 ethnic Vietnamese now live in this nation of 10 million people, mostly working in low-level jobs.

In this fishing village 35 miles north of the capital, Vietnamese residents retreated onto their boats when the fighting started, ready to head for the border of Vietnam as they have in the past.

''It is quiet now but we are still afraid,'' said Ho Van Xai, a fisherman whose 25-year-old son bears the scars on his face of bullet wounds suffered during an attack that left 15 people dead here four years ago.

The massacre of Vietnamese in Taches was one of several in recent years by the Khmer Rouge, for whom hatred of Vietnam is a basic principle. Even now, the Khmer Rouge rally their guerrillas by telling them they are fighting to liberate the country from the Vietnamese.
The Khmer Rouge continue to press this line in radio broadcasts even as they assert that they have rejected the politics of their founder, Pol Pot. ''It is Vietnam's historical plot to swallow up Cambodia and annihilate Cambodians,'' said a recent broadcast.

The theme finds a resonance among many Cambodians.

''Pol Pot did many bad things, but he saved Cambodia,'' said a gift-shop owner, who like many Cambodians these days would speak about politics only on condition of anonymity. ''If it were not for Pol Pot, the Vietnamese would have taken over and Cambodia would be gone.''

Some younger Cambodians go so far as to say that the Khmer Rouge themselves must have acted under the Vietnam's sway when they caused the deaths of more than a million people during their years in power, from 1975 to 1979.

But when the Khmer Rouge play on anti-Vienamese notions in their broadcasts, they have a particular target in mind: Cambodia's de facto leader, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was first put in power by Hanoi after a Vietnamese invasion that ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

For the last two months, their broadcasts have rarely failed to take a swipe at Mr. Hun Sen as a traitorous ''Vietnamese puppet.''

Though much weakened, the Khmer Rouge still appears to be angling for a coalition with the royalist forces of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was ousted this month as First Prime Minister in a coup by Mr. Hun Sen.

Prince Ranariddh himself had tried to exploit anti-Vietnamese sentiment before the coup. Earlier this year, the Prince began to grumble about Vietnamese border violations and threatened force, much as the Khmer Rouge had done in the late 1970's.

The nation's borders with Vietnam on the east and Thailand on the west have expanded and contracted over the centuries, and the antipathy between Cambodia and Vietnam has remained particularly strong.

Although it was Vietnam that liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge, the decade-long Vietnamese occupation that followed convinced many Cambodians of Hanoi's continuing designs on their nation.

This difficult history has put ethnic Vietnamese like the fishermen here in Taches in a limbo of near-statelessness, born and raised in Cambodia but ready to board their boats and flee at any moment.
Several people here said they would already have left for Vietnam if they had some place there to settle.

Asked where his home was in Vietnam, a 56-year-old villager, Ngo Van Xeng, shouted: ''I don't know! We were all born here. Our home is here. My father and my mother -- their fathers and their mothers -- we are all from Cambodia!''

Ethnic-Vietnamese Cambodians Prevented From Voting in Kandal

SA’ANG DISTRICT, Kandal province – Liv Yang Bin, 66, has voted four times, but on Sunday he could not make it a fifth.

Three times on Sunday, Mr. Yang Bin went to his local polling station at a school here in Kandal province, but each time he was met by some 500 local people, who drove him away with their anti-Vietnamese chants.
“I went to the polling station and each time people yelled ‘yuon are not allowed to vote.’ They pushed me and they were so many; I was scared that they would beat me up,” said Mr. Yang Bin, whose family originates from Vietnam, but he was born in Cambodia.

Out of the 50 Vietnamese families in Troeuy Sla commune, Mr. Yang Bin said only 15 people in the commune had the right to vote. And like Mr. Yang Bin, most could not vote Sunday, though most have lived as fishermen in Cambodia for several generations.

Only five of the 15 managed to endure the chants and make their way past the angry crowd inside the polling station to vote, he said.

“We consider ourselves Cambodian. Most of us have lived here for three generations. I have an identity card and my name is on the voter list. I am a citizen, so why can I not vote?” he asked.

The crowd of some 500 Cambodians who were stationed at the polling station disagreed.

“We don’t want the yuon to vote,” said Leang Muchlim, a 37-year-old farmer, using a term considered derogatory to describe ethnic Vietnamese people. “We watched ten of them vote already and then we stopped more from voting because we select a Cambodian government, not a Vietnamese” government, she said.

“This is about our future, the fate of the Khmer people, so let the Khmer decide,” she added.
The scenes here Sunday came after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party campaigned heavily on an anti-Vietnamese platform for the national election, stating that the ruling CPP are mere puppets of the country’s eastern neighbor and that too many Vietnamese nationals are entering the country to do jobs that Cambodians can do themselves.

District governor Khem Chann Kiry said that polling had gone smoothly until around 8:30 a.m. when Cambodians of Vietnamese origin were prevented from voting.

“We do not allow foreigners to vote, but the Vietnamese who came here had their name on the list so they can vote. The ones who caused the unrest are in the wrong,” Mr. Chann Kiry said, adding that he stayed at the polling station until 3 p.m. with about 15 police and military police.

Mr. Yang Bin’s neighbor, 38-year-old Veal Le, who said that she had lived in  village since she was 5-years-old, was one of the few Vietnamese who managed to cast their vote. Initially, she said, an angry mob had dragged her away.

“I went again at 8 a.m. and police were there and helped me. They told people that I had an identity card and escorted me inside. I was shaking,” Ms. Le said.

Putting aside anti-Vietnamese rhetoric in Cambodia for a ‘change’

By Jul 30, 2013
By Michelle Tolson
When Information Minister Khieu Kanharith presented preliminary results Sunday evening showing the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was in the lead holding the majority of the seats of parliament at 68 to the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party’s (CNRP) 55, activists expressed disbelief, shock and disappointment.  There were concerns about unrest and opposition leader Sam Rainsy urged voters to stay calm.

Riots had broken out earlier at Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district polling station when people reported they had not been allowed to vote.

Transparency International Cambodia (TI) released a press statement by social media noting numerous voting irregularities.  Voters had found their names were not on voting lists or that their name had been used already in another province.  There were also reports of vehicles without identifying license plates bussing in large numbers of suspect people to vote in a number of provinces.   TI noted these situations contributed to feelings of frustration among voters which led to violence at some polling stations.
Violence in Phnom Penh during Sunday's election has been linked to anti-ethnic Vietnamese sentiment. Pic: AP.

Prior to elections, U.S.-based National Democratic Institute had warned that almost 11 percent of voters would not be able to vote.

Despite these challenges, election observers had reported after the tally of votes in their districts via social media that the CNRP appeared to have a strong lead.  Social media has had a great impact on the election campaign for the opposition party that has seen it as a necessary mode communication given the ruling party controls or owns the majority of Khmer language media outlets. Trust for this form of news is much higher than “official” Khmer media outlets.

Public support for the opposition has been high. Previously exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy drew record crowds in Phnom Penh estimated to be 100,000 or more when he returned to the country July 19 after an official pardon from the King for charges of removing border posts by Vietnam.

However, though the platform of the opposition is pro-human rights, it is not friendly to the beleaguered Vietnamese minority that has been living in Cambodia for generations. Investors in Vietnam, as well as China, have been linked to the spate of evictions that have left 20 percent of Cambodians without land.

As the election results have been called into question, ethnic Vietnamese Cambodian’s safety has also been a concern among some activists.  Eventually media reports linked the riots in Stung Meanchey to claims that a Vietnamese man had tried to vote.

Bill Herod, a retired NGO worker living in Mondulkiri province in the north eastern part of the country, said that despite the allegations that large numbers of Vietnamese had been brought in by the CPP to slant the vote in their favor, he saw no evidence of this. “To actually influence the election result would require a truly massive number of people voting in districts all over the country. Mondulkiri borders Vietnam. We [saw] no unusual traffic flow here,” he said.

“The opposition always point out that there are ‘Vietnamese sounding names’ on the voter registration lists. Of course there are. There are tens of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia and many are citizens. Some Cambodians don’t think ethnic Vietnamese who live here permanently should have citizenship rights,” explained Herod.

While Herod did not doubt that CPP corruption influenced the election outcome somewhat, he felt the issue of Vietnamese voters was exaggerated.  “It troubles me greatly to see the opposition go off on these anti-Vietnamese tangents rather than stay focused on the real issues surrounding us here.”

Mistrust of the Vietnamese in Cambodia has historical roots in the previous war.  While Vietnam’s invasion of the country in 1979 ended the Khmer Rouge starvation camps, the foreign government also occupied Cambodia until 1989.  During UNTAC-sponsored elections in 1993, Vietnamese living in the country were targeted for ethnic cleansing.  Foreign media had reported 20,000 to 40,000 Vietnamese refugees fled to Vietnam during elections.  Of the estimated 200,000 ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia at the time, Hanoi had considered half to be ‘Cambodian’ as they had lived there for generations, prior to Vietnam’s occupation. Presently, this group has an estimated 100,000 still residing in Cambodia, many of whom are considered “stateless” as they are not recognized by either Vietnam’s or Cambodia’s government.
The opposition has rejected the results and has asked for an inter-committee composed of representatives from human rights NGOs, the U.N., the CPP, CNRP and NEC to resolve the issue of irregularities.  While the focus of human rights groups is on the voting irregularities, Herod hopes for a change of tack from the opposition.

“If the CNRP vote really does represent anti-Vietnamese sentiment to any great degree that is not only sad but very dangerous. We have seen mob violence against Vietnamese residents in Cambodia before. In any case, the Vietnamese are not the problem,” he said.

The opposition has the attention of large group of disenfranchised supporters and a complex set of issues to focus on in the coming days. The great outpouring of enthusiasm from Cambodia’s youth has been heartening to civil society representatives who have never before witnessed the massive and peaceful collective action. Putting aside anti-Vietnamese rhetoric would show a real change for the country.

Cambodia government rejects opposition call for poll inquiry

PHNOM PENH | Tue Jul 30, 2013
(Reuters) - Cambodia's government rejected on Tuesday calls by the opposition for an international inquiry into allegations it used massive fraud to win re-election, and said it wanted parliament to approve a new cabinet quickly.

The United States and European Union expressed concern about irregularities in Sunday's election but both said an investigation should be conducted by Cambodian electoral authorities, failing to endorse the opposition's call for an inquiry involving the United Nations.

The government announced on Sunday that the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen had won 68 seats in the 123-seat parliament, a sharp fall from its previous tally of 90. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) nearly doubled its seat total to 55, in a major surprise and a setback for Hun Sen.

CNRP leader Sam Rainsy said up to 1.3 million names had been missing from the electoral rolls and complained about lack of access to the media as well as intimidation on the campaign trail.
Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, rejected such allegations at a news conference.

"We have over 10,000 national observers and over 100 international observers who reckoned our election was held in a peaceful manner without any violence, free and fair," he said.

There was no proof of any missing names, he added. "The opposition party should be asked to show clearly what evidence it has about the irregularities it alleges. The National Election Committee has already said 'please bring up evidence, don't just say it, so we can work together to solve things'."

Sean McIntosh, spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh, told Reuters in an email: "We're calling on the National Election Committee (NEC) to conduct a full and transparent investigation into all credible reports of irregularities."

The European Union also expressed concern about "shortcomings".

"The EU hopes that any dispute addressed to the National Election Committee and the established judicial mechanisms will be dealt with fairly and swiftly," it said in a statement.
The NEC has not yet given the number of seats won by each party.

Hun Sen, 60 and prime minister for 28 years, has made no comment on the results and has not appeared in public since Sunday. His party issued a statement on Tuesday denying rumors he had resigned and left the country.

Even by the government's own figures, Sunday saw his worst election result since the country returned to full democracy in 1998, after decades of war and turmoil including the 1975-79 "Killing Fields" rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Prolonged wrangling over the result and a weakened Hun Sen could raise uncertainty over policy in the small but fast-growing Southeast Asian country that has built up a thriving garment sector and forged economic ties with China and Vietnam.

A quorum of 120 out of 123 lawmakers is needed in parliament to approve a new cabinet, so the CNRP could delay this.

But its chances of overturning the election results seem slim given the ruling party's grip on the courts and with major foreign donors like the United States unlikely to reject the outcome without evidence of massive fraud.

The opposition tapped into growing concern among Cambodians over inequality and corruption.
Rising garment exports plus heavy flows of aid and investment from China have fuelled economic growth, but that has been accompanied by a rise in social tension.

There are regular, often violent, protests over pay and conditions by garment workers and over land rights in a country of 14 million, where a third of the people live on less than 65 U.S. cents per day.

Rights groups say the electoral system is heavily biased in favor of the ruling party and Transparency International Cambodia, which monitored the election, said it was "very concerned about the disenfranchisement of citizens and suspect voters".

Voting on Sunday, like the campaign itself, was for the most part peaceful.
(Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Robert Birsel)

US urges probe into Cambodia vote 'irregularities'

July 30, 2013

WASHINGTON — The United States voiced concern on Monday about reports of irregularities in Cambodia's weekend elections and called for a credible investigation.

"We urge all parties and their supporters to continue to act in an orderly and peaceful manner in the post-election period," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The Cambodian opposition rejected the results of the polls even though it made significant gains, saying it had been robbed of victory over strongman Premier Hun Sen.

"We are concerned by numerous reported irregularities in the electoral process," Psaki said, adding that Washington had long called on Phnom Penh "to address systemic flaws such as problems in the voter registry and unequal access to the media."

"We call for a transparent and full investigation of all credible reports of irregularities," Psaki told reporters.
It was the worst election result for Cambodia's ruling party since 1998, after the opposition was emboldened by the return from exile of its leader Sam Rainsy, even though he was barred from running.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) announced late Sunday it had taken an estimated 68 out of the 123 seats in the lower house, against an increased 55 for the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
"We believe that, of course, the Cambodian people should have confidence in the outcome of the election," Psaki added.

Cambodia: UN Expert Calls For Free, Fair and Peaceful Electi

Cambodia: UN Expert Calls For Free, Fair and Peaceful Elections, and Full Respect For Human Rights
GENEVA (26 July 2013) – On the eve of the National Assembly elections in Cambodia on Sunday 28 July, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, reiterates his call for free, fair and peaceful election that is underpinned by respect for human rights before, during and after polling day:

"Free political environment and the ability of the people to exercise their rights and freedoms, such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and assembly and the right to stand for election are the key to free and fair elections.

"Cambodia has made significant progress in strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and I call upon the Government to ensure full respect for its international human rights obligations as the country goes to the polls on Sunday.

"In the remaining hours, I urge the people of Cambodia to refrain from violence and have due regard for the rights of other fellow citizens when exercising their own. Every eligible voter must be given an equal opportunity to exercise his/her right to vote without intimidation, fear or pressure. Allegations of intimidation must be promptly investigated by the authorities.

"With regard to the National Election Committee (NEC), all complaints brought to its attention should also be promptly investigated, and if appropriate, remedied. It is not too late for many of the important concerns already raised to be addressed in a meaningful manner.

"At this juncture in the history of Cambodia, what is at stake is the credibility of the election, and thus also of the future governors of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

"The right to vote, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is a fundamental human right that is intricately linked to the right to participate in the political, economic and social life of one's country.

"This election can mark a milestone in the growth of Cambodia that the people wish to see - of an inclusive, just, equitable, and free society. I firmly hope it will and wish all the best for the people of Cambodia on Sunday."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

One weekend, four elections

| Jul 27, 2013
There are four elections being held this weekend. None of them could be said to be of world-historical importance, but each has some features of interest. Taken together, they convey some lessons about the possibilities and the limitations of democracy.

Kuwait votes today for a new parliament. Like the three countries voting tomorrow, Kuwait is something less than a model democracy, but by the standards of its region it’s not bad. Elections are more free and competitive than in neighboring Arab states, and its parliament is a good deal more representative.

Ultimate power is still held by the emir, Sheikh Sabah IV, whose family have ruled the country since independence – with the exception of a few months in 1990-91 when it was invaded and annexed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The western led coalition that liberated it was able to insist on some democratic reforms: parliament was strengthened, citizenship was extended a little more widely, and women were eventually given the vote in 2005.

The last few years have been a confusing tangle of constitutional problems as the regime has dealt with the pressures for liberalisation arising from the Arab Spring. This will be the sixth election in seven years; the previous one, last December, was boycotted by the opposition and subsequently invalidated by the Constitutional Court, although it upheld the new electoral system that had created the controversy.

Despite the problems, Kuwait seems better placed than most countries in the region to gradually transition towards a relatively liberal democracy. Its oil wealth provides the government with a lot of room to manoeuvre if it needs it. But the pressures involved should not be underestimated.

There are a few very good reports around on the election and its background. The most interesting is probably by Larbi Sadiki at Al-Jazeera, but also don’t miss the piece by Ian Bickerton in yesterday’s Conversation. The BBC has quite a good “Q&A”, and there was a comprehensive AP report a couple of days earlier.

Cambodia, which goes to the polls on Sunday, is another country where a traumatic recent past led to a constitutional settlement at the behest of foreign intervention, in this case the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia of 1992-93. The attempt to impose democracy has been only partially successful; prime minister Hun Sen is an old-fashioned authoritarian who is not expected to allow any serious challenge to his power.

Nonetheless, compared to neighboring Vietnam and Laos, which have remained under communist dictatorship, Cambodian democracy looks almost robust. Opposition parties exist and function, and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had been in exile since 2005, was earlier this month granted a royal pardon to enable him to return and campaign in the election.

In the last election, in 2008, the three main opposition parties won about 34% of the vote between them and 31 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly. (There is also an indirectly-elected Senate, with a similarly large government majority.) Voting is by D’Hondt proportional representation, with the 24 provinces as multi-member constituencies.

This year there seems more pressure for change than Cambodia has seen for a long time. There’s an excellent report from Michael Sainsbury in yesterday’s Crikey, and regular stories from Fairfax’s Lindsay Murdoch. A BBC report the other day also provides some interesting background on the Cambodian economy.

In the short term, the overthrow of Hun Sen seems most unlikely, but it is possible that a strong opposition showing will force him to make further compromises in order to retain power.

Northern Cyprus
To say that four countries are holding elections is speaking loosely, since Northern Cyprus on most accounts is not a real country. The so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus declared its independence in 1982, eight years after the Turkish invasion that partitioned the island of Cyprus, but Turkey is the only country to recognise it; the United Nations and most of the international community still regard it as occupied territory.
But Northern Cyprus does have elections, and they matter. The 2003 brought the pro-reunification Republican Turkish Party (CTP) of Mehmet Ali Talat to power (he was subsequently elected president), and for several years the state adopted a conciliatory policy towards the Greek-majority south. Talat supported the Annan plan for reunification, which was put to referendum in 2004: the Turkish Cypriots voted in favor, but the Greek side turned it down.

The CTP was re-elected in 2005, but in 2009 it was ousted by its rival, the pro-independence National Unity Party (UBP), and the following year Talat was defeated for re-election as president by the UBP’s Derviş Eroğlu. That put reunification talk firmly on the back burner, and Cyprus proper is now preoccupied in any case with its economic problems.

Reports from Northern Cyprus are scanty (at least for non-Turkish speakers), so who has the edge this time is hard to say. The UBP government fell last month on a vote of no confidence after sustaining defections from a number of MPs, and the CTP’s Sibel Siber goes into the election as caretaker prime minister (one report now puts her party in the lead).

But since Eroğlu’s term as president runs until 2015, and president and prime minister are independently powerful, a CTP victory tomorrow would mean another bout of divided government.

And finally we have Mali, the African state torn by a three-cornered conflict over the last year between its southern-based government, Tuareg separatists in the north, and al-Qaeda-linked forces who were initially aligned with the separatists but soon alienated them.

French intervention earlier this year quickly routed the fundamentalists, and a preliminary peace deal signed last month with the separatists paved the way for tomorrow’s presidential election. It’s not obvious that moving so quickly is a good thing; Malian institutions are in pretty poor shape, and Jeremy Keenan at Al-Jazeera argues that “Holding elections in the current state of tension and unpreparedness risks continued instability and further internal conflict.”

The underlying issue is that the majority of people in the south are probably not ready to make the sort of concessions that will meet the north’s desire for autonomy. Still, if that’s a problem, sweeping it under the carpet isn’t going to help. While some extra time for logistical preparation might have been a good idea, at least the election will give someone a mandate to try to do something to bring the country together.

There are 27 candidates for president, so there’s no real prospect of anyone winning a majority tomorrow: the top two will contest a runoff on 11 August. The BBC has a rundown on the top contenders. For more information, check out the reports at Reuters, the Guardian and Le Figaro.

According to the latter, turnout is “traditionally weak” and “it will doubtless be called a victory if 25% to 30% of voters go to the polls.” In 2007 it was 36.2%, but 9.1% of those who did show up voted informal.

Young Cambodians take to the streets ahead of Sunday's election

The Christian Science Monitor

Thousands of young moped-saddled Cambodians trailed opposition leaders in a clamorous and colorful cavalcade around capital Phnom Penh today, highlighting how seriously Cambodia’s young voters are taking Sunday’s elections.

At stake are 123 seats in the country's parliament and control of a fast-growing economy, which Prime Minister Hun Sen (oft-described as “wily” and a “strongman”) has controlled since 1985.

Though most observers believe the incumbent Cambodian People's Party (CPP), victorious in the four previous elections, will also win Sunday, the youth vote will be crucial: Around 70 percent of the population is under 35.

"We want change, so we vote for 7 [referring to the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP)]," says Bun Heng, an apprentice mechanic, among the thousands awaiting the arrival of the opposition leaders into Phnom Penh. Seven is the number designated to the opposition on the ballot, four is the number allocated to the ruling party.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is back in the country, though barred from running for office, after a July 12 royal pardon for what he believes are politicized charges. His presence has galvanized the opposition and many young Cambodians who are tired of more than two decades of Cambodia People’s Party control.
It’s an uphill battle. Fears of ballot stuffing and tampering with the election rolls have surfaced in recent days, with local English language media reports saying that the majority of Phnom Penh's constituencies have voter registration rates exceeding 100 percent.

“The fact that the CPP is so well entrenched in the administration, down to the village level, gives it a further notable advantage,” says Milton Osborne, a former Australian diplomat in Cambodia and author of several books on Southeast Asia. The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party also has to contend with local media, which are under the thumb of the ruling party.

So, young urban Cambodians seeking change have taken to Facebook and other social media to share information and rally to the opposition side.

Sopheap Chak, a young Cambodian blogger, says that younger compatriots “demand more transparent, concrete polices from each of the political parties to address on common problems including land, corruption, and independent media access that this country is facing.”

The CNRP has sought to capitalize on anger over land grabs to bolster its campaign – which has been tarnished otherwise by stoking anti-Vietnamese sentiment. As many as 400,000 Cambodians have been affected by land grabs since 2003, according to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (Licadho). And although many recognize an opposition win is unlikely, the hope is that a strong opposition showing could help encourage the government to better-respect the rights of those displaced.

“Development in this country is not for the people, it is for the small few – the government and the big company,” says Tep Vanny, 32, who will work as an election observer on Sunday and has led protests against the eviction of more than 3,000 families from around Phnom Penh's Beoung Kak lake – once a popular tourist draw but now a walled-off landfill awaiting the building of a hotel by a company linked to the CPP.

Economic growth

But not all Cambodians want the ruling party to go. The CCP is appealing to voters on the back of 7 percent economic growth in recent years – powered by textile exports to Western countries that are also substantial aid donors, as well as almost $10 billion worth of Chinese investment.

A recent survey by the US-based International Republican Institute found that 79 percent of Cambodians thought that the country was heading “in the right direction.”

“The majority of Cambodians, especially in the rural areas, support PM Hun Sen due to his popular politics and certain achievements in rural development and poverty reduction,” says Vannarith Chheang, a young global leader at the World Economic Forum and director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.

And if the opposition’s parade was animated by thousands of young citizens, so too was a final Friday evening CPP rally, which blocked off most of a square kilometer between the Royal Palace and Independence Monument, two Phnom Penh's landmarks.

The event was more party than politics, with little by way of speechmaking but ample music and dance for a mostly 20-something crowd.

“I cannot say in words why [I] support CPP, I follow my family” says Sopheat But, a 20-something logistician, adding, “I just think they will do a better job of running the country.”

But CPP backer Mao Pal, 32, is more articulate in his criticism of the opposition. He says that promises like the opposition’s pledge to raise minimum wage from the government's recently proposed $80 a month to $150 are implausible: “They talk about money but it's not related to the real situation in the country.”

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cambodia: Systematic Problems Undermine Elections

Unequal Media Access, Official Bias, Opposition Leader’s Exclusion Mar Polls
July 26, 2013

 Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, leader's CNRP in July 19, 2013. Photo: Quoc Viet/RFA

(New York) – Cambodia’s electoral process is marred by systematic problems that prevent national elections scheduled for July 28, 2013, from being free and fair, Human Rights Watch said today. Eight parties are taking part in the elections, including the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), led by the opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Problems with the electoral process include: unequal media access for opposition parties; pro-CPP bias within the national and local electoral apparatus; the lack of an independent and impartial dispute resolution mechanism; alleged manipulation of voter rolls to allow “ghost” voters and exclude opposition voters; and campaigning by senior security forces officers for the CPP.

“The entire process is biased in favor of the ruling party and against the opposition,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “What should result in the will of the people has been organized to result in the will of the Cambodian People’s Party.”

The National Election Committee (NEC) has refused to reinstate Sam Rainsy as a candidate after his July 12 royal pardon from trumped-up criminal convictions. Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia on July 19, after four years abroad while facing imprisonment. The committee had endorsed Sam Rainsy’s removal from the voter rolls and barred him from running for election because of his convictions.

“An election with the leader of the opposition banned on spurious grounds is almost the definition of an unfair and undemocratic process,” Adams said.

The CPP and its direct predecessors have dominated Cambodian politics since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, despite losing United Nations-administered elections in 1993. Independent domestic and international election observers concluded that the 1998, 2003, and 2008 elections lacked credibility.
The European Union (EU), which had sent official election observation teams for previous Cambodian elections, told Human Rights Watch that it would not send an observation team in 2013 because of the many structural problems that make the elections unfair, and because of the failure of the CPP-controlled National Election Committee to act on previous recommendations from the EU and others to ensure free and fair elections.

“Citizens of genuine democracies would never accept at home the kind of grip the CPP has on the media and electoral machinery,” Adams said. “The process has been manipulated to ensure victory for the ruling party. Cambodia’s donors, including the United States, European Union, and Japan, still have enormous clout and should make it clear that they do not consider the process credible.”

One important improvement over previous election cycles has been the substantial reduction in election related violence – albeit against a backdrop of massive violence in previous elections for which no one has been held to account. However, opposition parties have operated in an environment of threats, harassment, and intimidation. This has severely impaired the ability of opposition parties to organize, recruit party members and candidates, and reach voters. The CPP has used politically motivated criminal charges as a tactic against its political foes, including through the conviction of Sam Rainsy and threats of charges against the CNRP’s vice president, Kem Sokha.

Throughout, Hun Sen has made it clear that he would not leave office even if defeated. CPP leaders and surrogates have warned that an opposition victory would plunge the country into a civil war or even lead to a military coup.

“Observers and diplomats judging the fairness of these elections should not fall into the trap of using lower standards for Cambodia,” Adams said. “Sadly, Cambodia is still not a democracy, or even on the path to democracy.”
Cambodian people support CNRP. Photo: Quoc Viet/RFA

 For details about the barriers to a free and fair election in Cambodia, please see below.
Barriers to Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia in 2013
Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party, states:
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity… (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; (c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.
However, actions by the Cambodian authorities in the period leading up to the July 28 elections have violated these rights in the following ways:

Unequal Access to Media
Equal access to media is essential for free and fair elections. In violation of Cambodia’s election campaign rules, the eight political parties competing in the election for the National Assembly have not had equal access to radio and television, by far the most important sources of news and information for most Cambodians. The CPP has a near monopoly on broadcast media, giving it a hugely unfair advantage over other parties and limiting access to information for voters, most of whom rely on television and radio for news and information. State-owned TVK and private stations broadcast pro-CPP news and propaganda while either criticizing or ignoring opposition parties.

A recent example of bias was the failure of state television and radio and private television stations to report on the return of Sam Rainsy to Cambodia on July 19, after receiving a royal pardon. Officials at TVK admitted publicly that they had decided not to cover Sam Rainsy’s return and show the large crowds welcoming him back at the airport and along Phnom Penh roads. Yin Sovey, chief of information at TV3, said that the director of his station had banned coverage. “Our broadcast is under the management of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and we don’t want to have problems,” Yin Sovey said.

Private stations sent reporters to cover Sam Rainsy’s return, but did not broadcast stories. Bayon TV, run by Hun Sen’s daughter, said that it sent reporters but did not air its report to avoid embarrassing police officials because of the massive “anarchy” in the streets created by traffic and onlookers. “People will criticize the traffic police when they see that the road is blocked because of the return of Sam Rainsy,” a station official said.

Large-circulation print newspapers including Rasmei Kampuchea, Kampuchea Thmey and Koh Sonthepheap did not publish stories on Sam Rainsy’s return either. However, Kampuchea Thmey, also run by Hun Sen’s daughter, published a front page story on a much smaller CPP rally on the same day. The English language Phnom Penh Post ran a story on the failure to report on Sam Rainsy’s return with the headline, “All the News That’s Safe to Print,” suggesting that editors and reporters could suffer repercussions if they covered Sam Rainsy’s return.

Self censorship is a significant problem for journalists seeking to cover the election. Journalists are aware of what happened to Mom Sonando, the owner of Beehive Radio, one of only two remaining independent radio stations in Cambodia – there are no independent television stations. Mom Sonando was arrested in 2003, 2005, and 2012 on politically motivated charges in retaliation for broadcasting phone-in programs critical of the government and CPP, and selling blocks of air time to US-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. In 2012, he was convicted and imprisoned for 20 years on sham charges of participating in an armed rebellion. Under international pressure he was released in March 2013, after a CPP-controlled appeals court resentenced him to a five year suspended sentence.

Politically Biased National Election Committee
The National Election Committee has lacked credibility because of political bias since its creation in advance of the 1998 national election. The five members are nominated by the Interior Ministry, then approved by the Council of Ministers, chaired by Hun Sen, and finally by the CPP-controlled National Assembly. Im Suosdey has been the chairman since 2002. Before that he was the first secretary general of the NEC from 1998 to 2002. From 1980 to 1995, he was the deputy chairman of the Central Committee of Youth Association of Cambodia, a CPP-affiliated entity. He is the brother of Im Sethy, a CPP Central Committee member and current education minister.

 Cambodian people support to change NEC. Photo: Quoc Viet/RFA

The CPP also dominates provincial, commune, and polling place election management committees.
In July 2012, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia stressed the need for urgent reforms “to give Cambodians confidence in the electoral process.” He said that the root of the problem was that the National Election Committee is “dominated by supporters of the ruling party,” and recalled past problems in “its operation of the voter registration system.”

Domestic and international election observation bodies and donors, including the United States and European Union, have long called for reform of the committee and its membership, but the government has ignored these calls.

Lack of an Independent and Impartial Dispute Resolution Mechanism
Independent election observers in Cambodia and abroad have long called for the creation of an independent and impartial election dispute resolution mechanism. In the three elections over which it has presided, the NEC has rejected opposition complaints and sided with the CPP, often without any indication that it undertook a serious investigation into allegations of election irregularities.

Surya Subedi, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, reviewed the mechanism to resolve electoral disputes and concluded that it should be improved. According to Subedi, “Currently, the election officials themselves are entrusted with the task of resolving preliminary election disputes. To increase the confidence of all political parties in the election process, there is a need to amend the law and to create another institution, such as a special election tribunal or election court within the judicial structure of Cambodia or as a special election tribunal within the National Constitutional Council to resolve election-related disputes, rather than using the National Election Committee itself to do so.”

However, the Cambodian government, National Assembly, and NEC have taken no steps to act on these or other recommendations for reform. If there are serious disputes after the upcoming election, opposition parties and members of the public are likely to lack confidence in the process, and contest the results.

Alleged Manipulation of Voter Lists
In his July 2012 report, Subedi called for measures to prevent fraud in elections. He said that, “The commune council elections in June 2012 identified continuing problems with voter identity documents, especially the issuance and use of fraudulent documents (the now-abolished form 1018). The National Election Committee should review the process of issuing such documents to ensure that the system is not abused by political parties in their favor and that there are no electoral malpractices.”
However, serious concerns about fraud have recently surfaced. On July 23, the Phnom Penh Post published a lengthy story documenting large variations between official population figures and the number of registered voters in most of Cambodia’s 1,633 communes.

Nearly all of Phnom Penh’s communes have voter registration rates in excess of 100 percent, amounting to more than 145,000 additional names, with one commune topping the 200 percent mark, an analysis of previously unseen government population data reveals.

Further analysis of the already public National Election Committee voter list shows there are more than 25,000 exactly duplicated names in Phnom Penh alone, despite previous NEC assurances that exact duplicates had been removed. According to additional analyses of National Election Committee data obtained by Human Rights Watch, there are 8,850 exactly duplicated names within Kandal province, 18,204 in Kampong Cham province, 6,295 in Prey Veng province, and 13,507 in Battambang province. In all these instances, spellings of names, dates of birth, and genders are identical.

Human Rights Watch has also obtained data on what appears to be massive over- and under-registration in the provinces. The new data compares voter roll statistics, made public by the National Election Committee, with leaked official Interior Ministry population figures for the same communes. The results highlight that among 1,610 communes for which a comparison is easily possible, registration is 108 percent or more than the eligible population in 654 communes, according to Interior Ministry records.

Inquiries in a selection of these locations suggests that over-registration is achieved by retaining names of deceased citizens and citizens who have voluntarily moved or been moved by forced eviction to other places, and by duplicating or fabricating citizens’ names. Over-registration effectively creates a bank of voter names that can be abused by simple ballot box stuffing or organizing people fraudulently to vote in those names. The comparison also shows significant under-registration of voters who say they had registered but are no longer on the voter lists. Under-registration can be used to prevent people who are likely to vote for opposition parties from voting.

Reports by local and international election monitoring organizations in 2013 drew attention to the nature of these problems. A March audit of voter lists conducted by the US-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) and two Cambodian organizations, the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) and the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS), concluded that contrary to National Election Committee figures, which stated that it had registered 101.7 percent of previously known eligible voters, only 82.9 percent were in fact registered, while the names of 10.8 percent of voters who believed themselves to be registered were not found on the registration lists. Moreover, in the audit, only 63.6 percent of the names on the list could be verified to exist in person.

In April, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) released a study that concluded that 13.5 percent of those who said they were registered to vote were not on the voter lists for 2013. If this figure is accurate for the entire country, it means that 1.25 million previously registered voters will lose their right to vote on July 28. The report said the missing people’s names were either not on the lists or so garbled as to be unrecognizable.

In response, on July 11, the National Election Committee released an audit by a firm it contracted to assess its voter rolls, stating that field tests concluded that 9.7 percent of people who believed themselves registered could not locate their names in the lists shown.

Another cause for concern is possible large scale misuse of Identification Certificate for Election (ICE) forms. These are produced by the NEC to allow a person who is registered to vote, but has lost all forms of identification used to identify themselves, to vote at polling stations. To obtain an ICE, two witnesses must affirm that the person lives in the commune where the person is registered to vote.

ICEs are issued with the signature of commune authorities, 97.4 percent of which are headed by CPP members. ICEs have been issued for the July 28 elections from 2011 through July 12, 2013. ICEs are supposed to have photographs attached, but many have been issued without photographs, according to persons who have reviewed the forms in the countryside.

The NEC says 480,000 ICEs have been issued. Official provincial election commission reports seen by Human Rights Watch specify that these include 99,733 ICEs in Battambang, 61,320 in Svay Rieng, and 56,228 in Pursat. Election monitoring organizations have expressed concern to Human Rights Watch that the large number of ICEs issued could be used to increase votes for the CPP in highly contested constituencies.

Partisan Campaigning by Members of the Security Forces and Civil Servants
For months, officers of Cambodia’s security forces and officials of the state civil service have been openly campaigning for the CPP and Hun Sen.

The partisanship of the military and police have created an intimidating atmosphere for voters in many parts of the country. Relying on official and semiofficial media reports, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the systemic and open support of senior and local military and police officers for a CPP election victory, and in particular Hun Sen’s continuation as prime minister.

Those involved include the military supreme commander, Pol Saroeun; the chairman of the joint military general staff, Kun Kim; the army commander, Meas Sophea; the national gendarmerie commander, Sao Sokha; the national police commissioner, Net Savoeun; and two of Hun Sen’s sons who are generals in the armed forces, Hun Manet and Hun Manit. Many of these are members of top CPP leadership bodies and concurrently heads of CPP “work teams” assigned to organize and mobilize voting for the CPP in the provinces.

Opposition leaders and activists told Human Rights Watch that they live with the constant fear that if Hun Sen and the CPP perceive them as posing any real electoral threat, the military and police will again be ordered to suppress them, including through arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings. “It’s always in the back of our minds,” one opposition candidate told Human Rights Watch.

Declarations by government, military, and National Election Committee officials on July 24 that military and police officers can campaign for the CPP only heighten concern about their partisanship.

Human Rights Watch monitoring of official and semiofficial media found that virtually all provincial, municipal, district, and ward governors, who are appointed civil servants, not elected officials, have also been actively campaigning for the CPP and Hun Sen. Many are identified as heads of the CPP organization in the areas they govern as state officials.

National civil servants have also been deployed to stump for the CPP by elected officials who turn ministries under their control into pro-CPP institutions. Officials at one national ministry told Human Rights Watch that its minister has worked via the ministry hierarchy to organize subordinate officials to work openly for a CPP victory in the province to which he is assigned as head of a CPP “grassroots strengthening” team. One official explained, “If the minister tells someone to go, they have to go.” An opposition activist from this province told Human Rights Watch that, “They want the people to be afraid that opposing the CPP means opposing the state, which people will fear is dangerous.”

Not all emerging-market stocks are down this year

 NEW YORK (AP) — Not all emerging-market stocks are the same.
A wide menu is available, from copper miners in Latin America to natural-gas giants in Russia to casinos in Cambodia. Unfortunately for investors in emerging-market index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, some managers say the menu is tilted toward the stocks that are less desirable. That's because the indexes are based on market size, so bigger stocks and bigger markets carry more weight. These are also some of the countries and industries that are feeling the most pressure from a slowdown affecting emerging markets.
The MSCI Emerging Markets index has more stocks from China than any other country, for example, at 18 percent. China's economy is also a top concern for economists, as it tries to shift from growth that's dependent on investment to more consumer spending. The International Monetary Fund expects China's economic growth to slow to 7.7 percent next year from 9.3 percent in 2011.

Worries about weaker growth mean Chinese stocks have lost 7 percent so far this year, including dividends, which looks worse when compared with the 19 percent return for the U.S. market.

That's one reason investors have been turning to actively managed mutual funds this summer. Such funds generally charge higher fees, but those that are run by talented, or lucky, stock pickers have a chance of beating the index.

"Now, you're seeing greater dispersion in returns from countries," says Patricia Oey, a senior analyst at Morningstar. "Some are doing really well, and some are doing very poorly. You could argue that it gives active managers a chance to outperform because if you can avoid those countries, it makes it easier to beat the index."

Consider Thornburg's Developing World fund (THDAX), which has a five-star rating from Morningstar. It has benefited from picks that Portfolio Manager Lewis Kaufman has made in Southeast Asian economies, where he says growth looks to be more resilient.

His recent picks have included VGI Global Media, an advertising company in Thailand, and NagaCorp, which operates the largest hotel and casino complex in Cambodia. Both those stocks have returned more than 30 percent in 2013 in dollar terms, and they're part of a rising tide for stocks in several Southeast Asian countries. Stocks from the Philippines have returned 15 percent, and Thai stocks are up 3 percent.

Kaufman's fund is up 7 percent this year, putting it in the top 4 percent of all diversified emerging-market stock funds. That compares with a 7 percent loss for the MSCI Emerging Markets index.

Kaufman says he hasn't written off stocks from Brazil, Russia, India and China, the first emerging markets that come to mind for many investors and collectively known as the BRICs. But he's being choosy.

"There's some temptation to say that BRICs are bad and non-BRICs are good," he says. But within BRICs, he's focusing on companies that stand to benefit from expected gains in consumer spending.

Not only does a wide gap exist among emerging markets between winning and losing countries, but also between industries. Consumer-related companies have held up better, for example, as investors bet that the middle class in developing economies will continue to expand. Stocks of companies that sell household products and other staples have been able to hold up, returning a fraction of 1 percent, for example.

"Anything more consumer-related has done well," says Doug Ramsey, co-portfolio manager of the Leuthold Global fund (GLBLX), which has a four-star rating from Morningstar. The problem is that their availability is more limited, he says.

Sellers of consumer staples make up just 9 percent of the MSCI Emerging Markets index, for example. The index instead is more dependent on financial companies, the biggest industry in the index at 27 percent. Financial stocks have lost 6 percent this year.

Other big industries in the index have seen even steeper declines: Producers of raw materials have lost 21 percent, and energy companies have lost 11 percent. Those two industries make up 21 percent of the index together.

Indexes that track emerging-market stocks have been falling steadily through the year, but the losses accelerated in June. The MSCI Emerging Markets index lost 6 percent that month, though it has recouped a portion of its losses in July. The slide pushed many investors to flee emerging-market ETFs. The majority of these track emerging-market indexes, and investors yanked $6 billion out of them last month, according to Morningstar.

But investors also put $2.1 billion into traditional emerging-market stock mutual funds, according to Morningstar. The majority of these are actively managed.

The Thornburg fund run by Kaufman has an expense ratio of 1.69 percent, according to Morningstar. That means $16.90 of every $1,000 invested in the fund goes to cover operating costs. Compare that with Vanguard's Emerging Markets Stock Index fund (VEIEX), where expenses eat up $3.30 of every $1,000 invested.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cambodia’s 2013 Elections: A Measure of Political Inclusion?

Cambodians will go to the polls on July 28 for the fifth National Assembly election since the U.N. organized the historic 1993 elections. Victory for the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is expected by many to be a foregone conclusion – a continuation of Hun Sen’s 28-year reign as prime minister, one of the longest serving leaders in Asia.
Cambodia election posters
Voter support for the CPP has remained steady over the last decade. The International Republican Institute’s (IRI) annual polling over the last seven years shows that roughly 80 percent of Cambodians believe the country is headed in the right direction. Photo/Karl Grobl

However, the 11th-hour return of the self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy last Friday, which culminated in a welcome rally attended by an estimated 100,000 supporters, has re-energized his coalition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), though the excitement was soon subdued when election authorities ruled on Monday that they would reject Rainsy’s application to run (although Rainsy is protesting this decision).

In addition, Sam Rainsy’s return failed to make nation-wide news in the government-dominated media. This is significant because the bulk of Cambodia’s citizens, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas, lack access to alternative sources of news and information, except those that amplify the CPP party line.

On top of that, a National Democratic Institute study of the quality of the government’s voter list found that 10.4 percent of voters listed could not be located and 9.4 percent of eligible voters had been deleted from the list. The fact the National Election Commission has not approved Sam Rainsy’s candidacy and thus he will not be on the ballot underlines many points on the opposition’s platform over the cooptation of the state by the CPP.

Meanwhile, the CNRP’s campaign efforts have been tarnished since their debut due to what some view as politically motivated use of the media and judicial system by the CPP, targeting the CNRP’s deputy, Kem Sokha, with legal claims of genocide denial and reneging on child support. Regardless of the CPP’s democratically questionable political tactics, it is important to understand why it remains such a formidable player in Cambodia.

Voter support for the CPP has remained steady over the last decade. The International Republican Institute’s (IRI) annual polling over the last seven years shows that roughly 80 percent of Cambodians believe the country is headed in the right direction. This is owed in part to the fact that in the last two decades, Hun Sen has effectively centralized power in Cambodia. It must be remembered that few nations have suffered as much terror as Cambodians did under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Even today, it is no small feat that this year’s campaigning has been conducted without major violent incident or political assassination and many Cambodians, especially those of the older generation, have taken note.

Much of the CPP’s legitimacy can be directly linked to the declining poverty rate which has been halved in the last decade. Behind Myanmar, Cambodians have experienced the second-most rapid rate of improvement in Human Development Index among the countries in the lower Mekong region in the last 10 years. Not only have there been steady increases in household income, but citizens have also benefited from improvements in local infrastructure, including roads, schools, and pagodas. In fact, 74 percent of those in IRI’s poll who said Cambodia is headed in the right direction said so because there are more roads now.
Cambodia elections
Cambodians have experienced the second-most rapid rate of improvement in Human Development Index among the countries in the lower Mekong region in the last 10 years. Photo/Karl Grobl

To date, the CPP has arguably achieved such gains through consolidating a party structure which has extended its hierarchy from Phnom Penh to almost every village in the country. Although the party’s super-structure has buttressed the state’s security apparatus and administrative functions, the party may increasingly find difficulty in controlling itself. Roughly 20 percent of Cambodians in IRI’s poll said that they think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Corruption and land-grabbing have been their overriding concerns. Both Cambodia’s civil society organizations and international donors echo these concerns and have pushed for democratic reforms to address the many outstanding cases of corruption and human rights abuses.

Despite skepticism around the election, some important takeaways have already emerged. First, CNRP’s ability to spark strong interest among younger voters, particularly in urban areas, clearly demonstrates that youth under the age of 25, which accounts for 53.8 percent of Cambodia’s population, have a radically different set of expectations than their parents. This new generation is more educated, consumerist, and in search of higher living standards. Increasingly drawn to urban areas for work, Khmer youth do not carry the same willingness as older generations to be detached from politics or bound by traditional social norms. Better jobs and improved access to services, especially in urban Cambodia, are emerging as priorities for youth in this election.

The ever-popular demand for more rural roads and basic infrastructure, such as irrigation, cannot be overlooked either. Decentralization has thus far been essential to the CPP’s success, where providing budgets and greater autonomy to elected commune authorities have resulted in more infrastructure projects like road building. Still, there is a long way to go; simply building more roads may not keep citizens satisfied.
There are signs that further decentralization could bring a wealth of other benefits, including improved services in health and education. In order to reap these benefits, local-level budgets need to be increased. Currently, the budgets of all local administrative authorities combined are still a fraction of the national budget.

Going forward, it may be that any political benefits from further decentralization may likely have less to do with more resource transfers and institutional capacity-building, and more to do with finding alternative ways to curb the excesses of power, such as improving access to information and public participation.
With poor protection of human rights on the one hand and increasing prosperity on the other, Cambodians face a conundrum when choosing a new government. This election may be a foregone conclusion in this instance, but at its core rests the question of whether a “1.5 party” system for the country will be stable over time.

In the book, Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, the authors’ sweeping review of political systems over the millennia suggests that economically open but politically closed states have either had to open up politically to continue to grow or risk economic stagnation and at worst, collapse.

With concerns over China’s impending economic slowdown, upon which Cambodia relies heavily, maintaining national economic growth will test any Cambodian government in the next five years. Over the long term, if Acemoglu and Robinson are correct, Cambodia’s continued growth may be the best measure of political inclusiveness.
Silas Everett is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Cambodia. He can be reached at The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.