Cambodia says 52 nations to send monitors for its election

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian government official on Thursday said as many as 220 observers from 52 countries would monitor Sunday’s general elections, widely expected to deliver a landslide victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen after the main opposition was dissolved.

Kem Reat Viseth (2nd R), head of the government committee in charge of election monitoring, looks on during a media briefing on the participation of observers, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 24, 2018. Reuters/Samrang Pring

Members of the European Parliament, the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, the Asian Parliamentary Assembly, the ASEAN Inter Parliament Assembly, the Assemble Parliamentare de la Francophonie, and groups such as Centrist Asia Pacific Democrat International and Shanghai Cooperation are among the monitors, the panel chief said.

“They all have experience in monitoring elections in various countries,” Kem Reat Viseth, the head of the government commission to coordinate election monitors, told a news briefing on Tuesday.

“They will speak the truth from what they see.”

The monitors came from 52 countries, among them Austria, France, Germany and Italy, he added, and would fund themselves.

Sunday’s election has been criticized by the United Nations and Western countries as fundamentally flawed after last year’s dissolution of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the imprisonment of its leader, Kem Sokha.

Some of the groups sending observers were described as “fake” by Lee Morgenbesser, a researcher on elections held by authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia.

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The International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization “are known fake election observation groups,” said Morgenbesser, a lecturer at Australia’s Griffith University.

“All of them have a documented history of certifying polls objectively judged to be lacking freedom, fairness and even competition,” Morgenbesser said.

“The Cambodian government is attempting to use these “shadow” observation groups as a substitute for the withdrawal of professional observation groups, such as the European Union,” he added.

“This is a sign of how the election utterly lacks credibility.”

Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Cambodian government, dismissed the accusation, saying that political parties, in addition to monitors, would also have representatives at polling stations to ensure fair play.

“Foreign monitors are good friends who come to observe the elections, they evaluate and they don’t have political motives, as raised by this professor.”

The European Union will not send any observers, said its ambassador, George Edgar.

“The EU will not send a monitoring mission for Sunday’s election,” he told Reuters. “I am not aware of any plans by members of the European Parliament to monitor the election.”

ICAPP did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

An individual who answered the telephone at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization told a Reuters reporter to call back on Wednesday.

Three other groups intending to monitor the elections are headed by Hun Sen’s son and the other two led by a man who was appointed by him as a “goodwill ambassador,” the National Election Committee said.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez