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Cambodia: Integrity of Election Results in Question, Right to Challenge Results Must Be Respected

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(Bangkok, 31 July 2013) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a regional human rights group with 47 member organisations from 16 countries across Asia, expressed concerns over numerous allegations of human rights violations and electoral irregularities, ranging from unequal access to media to manipulation of voters lists, during the election held in Cambodia on 28 July 2013. The group called for independent investigations into these claims and urged the authorities to allow peaceful challenges to the election results, including through public assemblies and protests.

The regional human rights group said that the Cambodian government ignored prior calls by local and international civil society, including the five key demands made by 53 member organisations of FORUM-ASIA and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), for the government to ensure a free and fair election. The government also failed to address warnings that Cambodian citizens’ rights to freely participate in the electoral process were being undermined.

Extensive restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to information were imposed in the run-up to the election, including a ban on all broadcasting stations from airing reports, polls, surveys and election results from foreign media for the five days prior to the election. A previous attempt to ban all foreign media broadcasts for the entire duration of the thirty-day campaign period was quickly rescinded after outcry from the public and the international community. Access to radio and television during the election campaign was nevertheless heavily biased towards the ruling party, with the mainstream media being monopolised by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

“The election was clearly not held on a level playing field. The list of examples is long, ranging from unequal access to media, which is heavily skewed in favour of the ruling party, to the barring of opposition leader Sam Rainsy from contesting,” said Giyoun Kim, Acting Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

“It is difficult to imagine a more revealing example of ruling party media manipulation than the fact that Sam Rainsy’s return to the country just about ten days before the election – and the fact that he was greeted by record crowds of over 100,000 supporters – was not broadcast on any Cambodian television stations. Nor were the enormous crowds rallying in support of the opposition party in the days immediately preceding the vote. The National Election Committee (NEC)’s refusal to reinstate opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s voter registration despite having received royal pardon on previous charges – thus barring him from contesting – is highly questionable and appears to be politically-motivated, reinforcing widely-held perception of the lack of independence of the NEC,” added Giyoun Kim.

“The NEC’s apparent bias in administering the election extended to numerous other allegations that have put the integrity of the election results in question, including the manipulation of voters lists, which resulted in the alleged disenfranchisement of more than one million eligible voters. An independent body, comprising representatives of the ruling and opposition parties, as well as civil society groups, must be set up immediately to investigate all allegations of electoral irregularities,” urged John Liu, East Asia Programme Officer of FORUM-ASIA.

Notwithstanding the alleged electoral irregularities, the opposition has managed to significantly reduce the ruling CPP’s majority in Parliament, increasing its own number of seats from 29 to 55, according to preliminary results. In light of this, FORUM-ASIA stressed that it will remain vigilant over the possible repercussions of the losses of the ruling party, including the possibility of violence. Prior to the election, Prime Minister Hun Sen had reportedly warned of a return to war if the CPP loses in the election.

“As anger amongst Cambodians over claims of irregularities is mounting, the authorities must allow challenges to the election results and grievances to be aired peacefully, including through peaceful public assemblies and protests. Any attempts to suppress criticisms of the election process will only serve to fuel discontentment which could exacerbate political tensions in the country,” stressed John Liu. (ENDS)

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