Friday, August 29, 2008

Reports about the not so fair election

Earlier this month, The Asian Network for Free Elections, ANFREL, and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, COMFREL, released reports about the general election. Both organisations concludes that the election was not fair.

ANFREL and COMFREL both reports that the general pre-election environment was peaceful in most areas. However, ANFREL reports that lack of campaign finance regulations created an unfair environment that clearly favoured the ruling party, CPP. ANFREL also reports that vote buying was used prevalently, and that there was a problem with politically aligned media, particularly the state media promoting CPP. They also reports about children being used in campaigning by both CPP and SRP. When David and I visited the orphanage he was working at in 2003 and 2004 the week before the election, many of the children where wearing caps and T-shirts with the CPP logo, and one of the children told us how CPP activists came to pick them up in big trucks for the campaigning.

According to ANFREL's report, election administrators did their job without any complaints, but the National Election Committee, NEC, was not perceived as impartial by a majority of electoral stakeholders. COMFREL however, reports of 207 cases of polling station officials not complying with the electoral Procedures and Regulations.

COMFREL reports that some political party activists, particularly of CPP, provided large-scale transportation or money to voters in "order to stimulate them to vote for their particular party" (which we saw one case of in Svay Rieng).

Both ANFREL and COMFREL reports about the misuse of "Form 1018". This is an alternative to an identification card available to Cambodian citizens. ANFREL reports that many official authorities issued this form to non-citizens in order to increase the number of votes for CPP.

ANFREL and COMFREL both addresses the problems with the voter lists. Particularly in Phnom Penh, many voters could not find their names on the voter list even though they had been registered and their names were present on the list prior to the election. ANFREL estimates that about 50‐60,000 of voters were unable to enjoy their right to vote. According to COMFREL, there were more serious irregularities affecting people’s voting rights this year than in previous elections.

Many voters made complaints about problems to CEC (the local branch of NEC), but ANFREL reports that many CEC members were unwilling to assist in finding a solution. COMFREL reports that 42% of the complaints to CEC were rejected, but none of the complaints filed by CPP were rejected.

The reports can be read here:
ANFREL's report
COMFREL's report

On August 12th, COMFREL published a joint statement on "The 2008 National Assembly Elections and Priority Recommendations for Electoral Reform" together with the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, CHRAC, the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, NICFEC, and the People’s Forum on Cambodian-Japan, PEFOC,J. That statement can be find here.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Press release: Lake filling must not lead to forced evictions



27 August 2008

Cambodia: Lake filling must not lead to forced evictions

The filling of Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh should immediately stop until a proper process that ensures human rights protection is in place, said Amnesty International and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) today.

With work starting on the redevelopment of the lake, tens of thousands of Phnom Penh residents living in its immediate vicinity fear forced eviction. They were not notified the work was going to begin. Few details about the plans have been disclosed as to what will happen to the affected people – an estimated 3,000 to 4,200 families living on the shores of the lake and around the area.

Amnesty International and COHRE said the project process is in breach of both Cambodian and international law.

"In the absence of proper plans, compensation and adequate alternative housing for at least 3,000 affected families, the filling of the lake should be immediately halted. Otherwise, this may be the beginning of the biggest forced eviction in post-war Cambodia," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia Researcher.

"If the government wishes to develop Boeung Kak, they should do so through a legal process, with the participation of communities that live around the lake," said Dan Nicholson, Coordinator of COHRE's Asia and Pacific Programme. "Affected communities need to be able to make informed decisions. The serious lack of clear information and accountability shows that preparations are just not in place."

The development plans for Boeung Kak Lake emerged in 2007, after the Municipality of Phnom Penh had entered into a 99-year lease agreement, handing over management of 133 hectares of land, including 90 per cent of the lake, to a private developer, Shukaku Ltd. According to the Municipality, this company will turn the area into "pleasant, trade, and service places for domestic and international tourists."

As recently as two weeks ago, representatives of the Municipality conceded to journalists in Phnom Penh that they did not know how many people were affected, but estimated the number to be just 600 families. Local group surveys show the number to be far higher.

In breach of international law and standards the process leading up to the agreement between the company and the Municipality of Phnom Penh excluded affected communities from participation and genuine consultation. Information has been lacking throughout the process, and community members and housing rights advocates in Phnom Penh consider that offers of compensation and/or adequate alternative housing have not been systematic, while resettlement plans have been withheld from the public.

The agreement also appears to breach domestic law and implementing regulations in that no environmental impact assessment has been made public and no bidding procedure preceded the agreement. Moreover, according to the 2001 Land Law, the lake itself should be inalienable state land (so-called state public property), so its ownership cannot be transferred for longer than 15 years, during which time the function [of the property] must not change. Many of the affected families have strong legal claims to the land under the Land Law.


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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Words from the party leaders

I intended to write about the parties before the election, but a functioning internet connection was nowhere to be found in Svay Rieng, and then I got back home and left for a month in Dalarna where I don't have internet connection either...

Anyway, even if the election is in the passed, I think it might be interesting to read about what the parties said they wanted to change if they won the election. Cambodian Daily had a series of interviews with senior leaders in the five biggest parties during the week before the election.

Sam Rainsy, president of the Sam Rainsy Party, SRP, which has been the most popular party among students for many years, said to Cambodia Daily that the party's three top issues are employment, to stop the inflation, and free healthcare. He said that SRP wants to approve and then implement the anti-corruption law. This would, according to him, make Cambodia more attractive for investors, spur competition, improve the collection of state revenue, and make sure that donated medicines will be free for the poor patients - as intended by the donors - instead of being stolen by government officials and sold to a high prize. Sam Rainsy further claimed that CPP (the ruling party, which won this years election as well) attracts big companies to buy land, but SRP doesn't want investors to focus on land speculation, they want investors to process products in Cambodia. They also want to encourage small and medium-sized farms instead of mega-sized farms where farmers don't own their own land.

Sam Rainsy also addressed the problem with parallell budgets, and the fact that CPP's budget is higher than the state budget. That means for example that schools are not built by the government but by CPP, and are presented with Hun Sen's (the president of the CPP) name on them as a CPP/Hun Sen donation:
It is totally ridiculous this patronage culture mentality, this beggar mentality, making people dependant on donations from the CPP. This is backward, it cannot help the country move forward. So we have to put things right.
The Human Rights Party, HRP, was formed in 2007 by Kem Sokha, former president of the NGO Cambodian Center for Human Rights. Now being the president of Human Rights Party, Kem Sokha told Cambodia Daily that his party believes there are three main obstacles to the development of Cambodia: The dictatorship, corrupt leaders and that the leaders are dependant on foreigners. He said that one of the first things HRP would do if they won the election is to approve the anti-corruption law. Another very important thing to HRP is to make the judicial system independent. Kem Sokha claimed that now there are judges and court official who want to be independent, but pressure leaves them with no choice but to stay affiliated with the CPP. Kem Sokha did also, just like Sam Rainsy, address the problem with lost tax revenue because of corruption. He claimed Cambodia have a good tax law, but the law is not implemented. He said that HRP want to change the current situation where the poor are paying taxes for the rich. He claimed that owners of big land holdings do not pay tax now, since they are affiliated with CPP.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of the Norodom Ranariddh Party, was removed from the Funcinpec Party presidency in late 2006 and then formed the NRP. He said to Cambodia Daily that NRP depends on and are hoping to get support from people that are unhappy with illegal immigration. He further acknowledged the problem with a small minority of the richest and the powerful owning most of the land in Cambodia. He pointed out that Cambodia should not have to be poor being a country with only 14 million people and rich on natural resources. Ranariddh also said that his party wants to approve the anti-corruption law and implement it towards everyone. He said he doesn't find it likely that a CPP-led government will approve it, "It's been 1994 ut to now..." (the draft anti-corruption law was submitted when Ranariddh was prime minister in 1994).

About the problem with getting support because of the split in the royalist political movement, Ranariddh said he has a lot of followers and:
They [the people who removed him from the Funcinpec presidency] forget that without Norodom Ranariddh, Funcinpec is not Funcinpec. Funcinpec was Ranariddh Norodom.
Funcinpec's new president and Cambodia's deputy prime minister, Keo Puth Rasmey, said to Cambodia Daily that "the split used to be an issue, but I don't believe it is anymore for us. First of all, I don't call it a split, because Funcinpec is still Funcinpec...". Keo Puth Rasmey said Funcinpec has the political will to make changes. He admitted that he does not know much about economic problem-solving or he best way to reduce corruption, but he said that how to do something is not the problem. He claimed that the main problem today is lack of political will:
All we need is political will, the rest is technical - you can open a book on how to solve inflation - this is no problem.
Cambodian People's Party's Cheam Yeap, the chairman of the National Assembly's banking and finance commission and a member of the Standing Committee of the CPP Central Committee, said to Cambodia Daily that they will find all ways to decrease the price of goods and the price of food. He also pointed out that CPP has created more than 600 000 jobs in Cambodia, while none of the other parties have created any jobs at all. He said that CPP are obliged to strengthen existing laws and make new laws in order to find potential revenue. Cheam Yeap claimed that CPP wants to approve the anti-corruption law and that the reason for the delay is that they want advice from the international community so that the law, when it is adopted, will be a law that is useful and effective for a very long time. He further claimed that if CPP would win the election the law will be adopted in late 2008. "We want to do whatever it takes to get this law adopted".

He further claimed that there has not been much done about the land dispute because the deputy chief of the national committee for solving land dispute, Sam Rainsy Party's Eng Chhay Eang, was playing cards instead of solving things. He also informed Cambodia Daily that when CPP was leading the country alone land grabbing was not a problem since nobody dared to do this (from what I've heard they will stay in coalition with Funcinpec, even though they got a simple majority of the votes which is what is needed nowadays to form a government on one's own...).

When being asked about the heavy criticism from NGO's and international organisations such as the UN, The World Bank and the US State Department, Cheam Yeap said CPP agreed to some of the criticism, and that it is important to consider criticism in order to be better going forward. But he also claimed that much of the heavy criticism are based on reports from opposition parties that want to spoil the CPP's reputation and popularity in order to destroy the party, and that this criticism is very unjust.

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