International observers reject commune elections

[Elections for new commune councils were held in February 2002, and were considered well conducted by most observers. Predictably, however, the International Republican Institute did a lot of huffing and puffing in an effort to discredit the outcome. This satirical comment was published in the February 15-28, 2002, Phnom Penh Post. I recently came across an academic journal article from 2005 that cited this article as a serious report.]

The leading international election observer group has condemned the February 3 Cambodian commune elections as “nowhere near world’s best practice.”

The US-based International Recount Institute called a press conference on February 4 to denounce a series of “inadequacies and irregularities” in the Cambodian poll. The IRI president, Mr. Bucky “John” Botulism, told reporters, “This was nothing like the way things should be done – the way we do them.”

Mr. Botulism objected to the “too hasty” announcement of the winning candidates in many communes. These declarations, he said, reflected “a simplistic belief that a candidate has won just because he or she has more votes than the other candidates.”

Where would the United States be, he asked, if it declared someone president simply because he had more votes than his opponent? It sometimes happens that presidents are elected with considerably fewer than half of the ballots cast. This is considered a positive advantage, “because it makes it clear to politicians that pleasing the voters isn’t everything.”

But even the question of which candidate has received the most votes is not as straightforward as the Cambodian authorities assume. “A genuine democracy requires checks and balances, such as a system of judicial review to determine whether the people really voted the way they intended to vote. Who is more qualified than a judge to decide whether you meant to vote for Shrub when you ticked Bore’s name on the ballot paper?”

Mr. Botulism said he found “extremely suspicious” the NEC’s figures on voter turnout. “They’re talking about 75 or 80 per cent of registered voters casting ballots. You couldn’t get figures like that in the US even if you promised $1000 to everyone who voted – Americans know better than to believe election promises. If an American electoral district reports a turnout over 52 per cent, we call in the fraud squad immediately.”

The IRI chief condemned alleged political murders and intimidation directed against the opposition as “embarrassingly amateurish and disorganized. Assassinations and intimidation should be left in the hands of professionals like the CIA. No one has questioned that since the Nixon administration.”

Finally, it appeared that some of the voters in the commune elections were “ring-ins,” Mr. Botulism said. “We have reliable reports that ethnic minorities were allowed to vote merely because they are Cambodian citizens and even though many of them have a clearly different appearance from the majority. If they look different from the majority, of course they’re going to vote different from the majority, and that can’t be democratic, can it?

“In Florida, if we had allowed a certain minority to vote, or if we had counted the ballots of those who voted despite our best efforts – why, Dubbya probably wouldn’t be president today! Think how happy that would make bin Laden!”

He said the IRI would lobby to have the elections denied a certificate of ISO9001 compliance.

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