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Cablegate: Cambodia Elections: Campaign Season Snapshot From

VZCZCXRO5933
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0602/01 2070723
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 250723Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000602

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL, USAID FOR ASIA BUREAU

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA ELECTIONS: CAMPAIGN SEASON SNAPSHOT FROM
THE CAPITAL

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 565
B. PHNOM PENH 575

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Emboffs' pre-election monitoring trip in
and around the capital of Phnom Penh revealed a campaign
process that is generally running smoothly (particularly when
compared to previous elections) and with very few official
complaints logged to date. While the Election Committees and
at least one commune chief painted a rosy picture of the
election climate and the opening of political space, the
opposition Sam Rainsy Party unsurprisingly remains concerned
about several alleged, anticipated, or unspecified abuses and
irregularities, including intimidation of voters and party
agents and irregularities in use of identification documents.
END SUMMARY.

Fewer Complaints But Some Concerns
----------------------------------

2. (U) Emboffs paid a visit to the capital's Provincial
Election Committee (PEC), where Mr. Lon Chheng Kay, Chairman
of the PEC, explained the process for resolving the five
official campaign complaints filed with the PEC, compared
with 20 to 30 complaints during the 2007 commune council
elections and 241 complaints during the 2003 national
election. Of these five, two concerned officials campaigning
during working hours and three concerned the destruction of
opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) signs. In all three of the
sign destruction cases, the PEC determined there to be no
fault because the SRP placed the signs on private property
and the owners were well within their rights to remove any
unwanted signs. Otherwise, Mr. Kay explained that
preparations for election day were progressing smoothly,
reporting that 67.47 percent of the Voter Information Notices
(VINs) (Ref A) have been distributed for the 722,677
registered voters in Phnom Penh. Local authorities are
working with civil society and media to get the message out
to voters that the remaining VINs are available to be picked
up directly from the Commune Election Committees (CECs.)

3. (U) The Chairman seemed particularly worried about the
potential for violence and insecurity occurring around
campaign activities at market places. In an effort to avoid
unwanted incidents, the PEC appealed to all parties to forego
campaign activities at the markets. Mr. Kay also expressed
his concern about the potential for future traffic
disruptions between now and the election. The PEC asked all
parties to refrain from campaigning on major thoroughfares
throughout the capital during peak hours to prevent a repeat
of a June 26 incident where almost all major routes to and
from the airport were blocked by various campaign activities.


Preparations Well Underway at the CECs
--------------------------------------

4. (U) Emboffs then paid visits to several CECs in Phnom
Penh and discovered that most of the PEC's plans have been
put into practice. Of the four CECs visited by Emboffs, the
number of VINs distributed varied from 58.8 percent to 84.6
percent. Additionally, all four CECs reported having
received all of the election materials from the PEC and are
in varying stages of distributing them. When asked how they
planned to prevent unauthorized officials from loitering in
or around the polling stations, the CECs reported that they
received strict instructions to prevent such behavior and
have educated their staff, local authorities, and the
security guards to be vigilant against such violations.

5. (U) All four CECs reported that they have not received
any campaign related complaints (official or unofficial), but
they noted that only a few of the parties (primarily CPP and
occasionally SRP) regularly keep them informed of their
planned campaign activities, which makes it difficult to
manage security and logistical concerns. Most CECs
identified the CPP and SRP as being by far the most active
parties in their communes and Emboffs observed a great number
of CPP and SRP signs throughout their visits around Phnom
Penh.

Optimism From CPP
-----------------

6. (SBU) During a meeting with Emboffs, Mr. Pov Huot,
Commune Chief of Chbar Ampov I commune and Chairman of the
CPP for the commune, reported that the campaigns were
proceeding smoothly in his commune. He explained that due to
the good cooperation between SRP and CPP on the commune
council (CPP holds six seats and SRP holds the other three)

PHNOM PENH 00000602 002 OF 002


there exists a respectful campaigning environment in the
commune. Mr. Huot predicted a high voter turn out and strong
support for the CPP because "most of the people love the
CPP," which he accredited to improvements such as the
successful asphalting of most of the commune's roads.

Despite Improved Campaign Climate,
Alleged Abuses Continue
---------------------

7. (SBU) However, Chairman of SRP for Meanchey District Mr.
Thach Khun Sarin alleged discrimination against known SRP
supporters in the distribution of VINs by pro-CPP village
chiefs during a meeting with Emboffs. When asked if most
voters are aware that they can now go directly to the CECs to
retrieve their VINs, Sarin replied that many are not aware
that they can do this, but assured Emboffs that most voters
know that they can cast their ballot without their VINs.

8. (SBU) SRP members also expressed concern about alleged
abuses committed by commune chiefs in issuing Form 1018s to
illegitimate voters. (NOTE: Voters who have no other form of
identification, either through loss or failure to apply for
other forms of identification, can seek to have their commune
chief issue them a Form 1018, which serves as a legitimate
identity document accepted as a valid form of ID for voting
purposes. END NOTE.) SRP members fear that unscrupulous
pro-CPP commune chiefs issue such identity documents
irregularly, specifically to Vietnamese immigrants who are
widely perceived to support the CPP. Sarin appealed to
Emboffs to try to persuade the NEC to prohibit commune chiefs
from issuing any Form 1018s on the day before and day of the
election to prevent such abuses. (NOTE: Sarin did not
elaborate on whether or how the Vietnamese names appear on
voter lists, which have been scrubbed of almost 500,000 names
since 2007. END NOTE.)

9. (SBU) During conversations with several CECs throughout
Phnom Penh, Emboffs learned that the SRP had yet to register
party agents with most of the CECs. Sarin explained that the
party decided to delay the registration of agents in an
attempt to protect them from intimidation or attempts to
influence their loyalty to SRP, conduct which Sarin alleged
occurred with some frequency during previous elections (Ref
B.) Sarin and SRP members also complained to Emboffs that
local authorities intimidate their constituents to prevent
people from affixing non-CPP party signs to their private
property. According to SRP members, some people fear
repercussions from local authorities allied with the CPP,
such as making it difficult to obtain official documents, for
their perceived support for opposition parties. Sarin
indicated that this problem negatively impacted the level
playing field for SRP's campaign activities. Emboffs believe
that this practice is less of a concern in urban Phnom Penh
than it is in the countryside, where the practice is believed
to be more wide-spread, because many of the commune councils
in Phnom Penh have SRP members to prevent such abuses.
Additionally, the overall campaign strategy of the SRP has
been to recruit supporters at the community level, quietly
and "below the radar" -not to compete directly with the CPP
in postering all houses in Phnom Penh with party signs. This
is an approach aimed to better protect SRP supporters from
the same concerns affecting official party agents, so it is
unclear the extent to which their complaint about being
unable to post party signs on houses is affecting their
election strategy.

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) Phnom Penh has historically been a stronghold of
SRP and we anticipate SRP will continue to receive support
among the capital's residents, despite the party's concerns
about alleged abuses and irregularities. The 67.47 percent
success rate in the distribution of VINs falls short of the
national average of 85.77 percent. This is most likely due in
large part to the composition of Phnom Penh's population.
There is greater migration in and out of the city than in
more rural areas, and local authorities encounter greater
difficulties in distributing the VINs to residents unknown to
them. With the early establishment of locations, which
should help to avoid the confusion over polling station
locations witnessed in previous elections, we do not
anticipate the undistributed VINs will have a major impact on
voter turn-out in Phnom Penh.
MUSSOMELI

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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