May 27, 2022
PHNOM PENH – Election officials and government spokespersons have said that the lack of UN assistance with the upcoming commune council elections will “not affect the credibility” of the poll results. The multinational’s body’s absence has been met with scepticism by political analysts who say it reveals the UN’s “reservations” about the election process.
Their declarations come in response to a statement issued by the UN in Cambodia, which announced that it will not be involved in assisting, organising or observing the June 5 commune elections.
In the May 25 press statement, the UN said the provision of UN electoral assistance is on the basis of a decision of the Security Council or General Assembly establishing a mandate for the UN to provide electoral assistance, and a formal written request for electoral assistance from an appropriate national authority.
The request is then followed by an electoral need assessment by the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), which would be approved by the Under-Secretary General of the DPPA before the UN System “provides or makes project commitments on electoral assistance”.
“Requests for electoral assistance must be made by the member state to the UN. Requests cannot be made by political parties, civil society or other organisations,” the UN said. “Given the requirements above, there is currently no provision of UN electoral assistance in Cambodia.”
Pauline Tamesis, UN Resident Coordinator in Cambodia, said: “As Cambodia gears up for the Commune Council Election, I urge the Cambodian government, all political leaders and their supporters to ensure an inclusive, genuine and peaceful electoral process, in a framework of full respect for human rights.
“This is essential for reflecting the freely expressed will of the people.”
Although no request for assistance will be provided, the UN said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is monitoring the situation in Cambodia and will continue to do so during the electoral period. The UN will also continue to closely follow the developments in the country.
Asked for a response to the UN statement, National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Hang Puthea said the UN is a neutral body which promotes development in countries around the world, and “would help any country they can”. However, he said the power to carry out elections ultimately rests in the hands of the host country.
He said it is the responsibility of the NEC to prepare the process and organisation of the election to ensure it is fair, free and that the outcome is accepted by all relevant parties, whom he classified as the NEC, participating political parties, voters and election monitors.
Puthea then cited Article 8 of the Constitution as stating that political parties have the right to appoint their observers for the elections, and Article 10, which stipulates that NGOs can also place their monitors and that it is optional.
“Although the UN will be absent, it does not affect the credibility … of the elections,” he said, pointing out that the election process is based on Cambodian laws that had been made in consultation with former UN officials and international experts.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia had previously received support from the UN on the election process, and deduced that their latest absence means the UN “sees that Cambodia can manage this work by ourselves, having enough resource and technical capacity, which indicates that Cambodia can run elections independently”.
He added that the Kingdom had striven to improve its democratic process just as Cambodians have begun to understand the role of democracy in deciding their fate.
“Elections around the world are . . . organised by the election body in the country, and no one else. They have enough ability to take responsibility for the election. In Cambodia, it is the NEC who has the power to manage it. Hence, no foreigner is needed as we can organise it by ourselves,” Siphan said.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said the UN is respected for their standards and mechanisms for organising elections, and that the organisation’s absence can dent elections’ credibility.
“Whether or not the UN accepts the election [outcome], their absence is telling, as it could have come from their reservations about the election process. If they participate, the election would, more or less, be seen as transparent, free, and fair,” he said, adding this would not be the case otherwise.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), insisted that the Kingdom had “sufficient” experience in organising elections, noting that the country had conducted more than 10 elections on both the local and national level.
He recalled that the national election in 2018 was condemned by several countries, who “eventually acknowledged that the Cambodian government was born out of that election”.
“Whether foreigners participate or not . . . the election is [ultimately] Cambodia’s internal affair, and the important thing is whether or not the Cambodian people accept the result,” he said.