Why Sam Rainsy wants to get rid of election observers

[Circulated to various English-language and Khmer-language papers on 2 March. I don’t know if any reprinted it.]

Ever since the UN-supervised national election of 1993, large numbers of national and international observers have become a norm in Cambodian elections. These observers serve as impartial witnesses of the conduct of the election and are thus able to verify or reject claims of wrongdoing by election participants — particularly systematic wrongdoing.

While observers have sometimes criticised particular aspects of an election, they have generally been agreed that the election results correspond with the intentions of the voters. This verification of official results has been important for political stability in Cambodia, because it allows unsuccessful candidates and their supporters to understand that they have not been cheated.

However, there is one party that has never accepted the reports of the observers. After every election since it was founded, the Sam Rainsy Party has declared that the observers got it wrong. Always, the Sam Rainsy Party was certain that, in some fashion or another, it had been cheated of victory, despite the conclusions of the observers.

Therefore, it is not really surprising that Sam Rainsy and his followers in the National Rescue Party (formed by a merger between the SRP and the Human Rights Party) have decided to go to the source of the problem: they propose getting rid of the observers.

In a statement dated 25 February, Sam Rainsy has called on international and local NGOs and “friendly countries” not to send observers for the National Assembly elections in July. The logic of the demand is clear: The NRP expects to lose the election. It will claim the election was rigged by the Cambodian People’s Party government. The observers will say it wasn’t rigged, and that will undermine the NRP’s ability to pose as democrats robbed of victory by totalitarian cheating. Get rid of those observers, and the NRP may gain some credibility for its claims, at least in foreign capitals, which is where it really matters.

Of course, Sam Rainsy can’t express it that clearly. Instead, he pretends that the coming election has already been rigged. But his “evidence” for this claim is merely a repeat of the same claims he has made after every previous election. One hopes that prospective observers will not be fooled by such self-serving nonsense.

Footnote: Sam Rainsy’s statement attempts to imply “United Nations” support for his position by quoting from the July 2012 report of Surya Subedi, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia. That report was remarkable for its illogic and ignorance of Cambodian reality, which is perhaps why it had sunk without a trace until Sam Rainy decided to attempt CPR. Those interested can read my criticism of the report on this site (a much shorter version of this was published in the Phnom Penh Post of 27 September 2012).

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