The Run-Up to Cambodia's 2003 National Assembly Election
Political Expression and Freedom of Assembly under Assault

A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, June 12, 2003


The parliamentary election to be held on July 27 will be conducted in twenty-four constituencies (twenty provinces and four municipalities). The 122 members of the National Assembly will be elected from a closed party list on the basis of proportional representation. Twenty-three parties have registered. The NEC oversees the electoral process, while the Provincial and Commune Election Committees (PECs and CECs, respectively) are chosen by the NEC and are responsible for local implementation.

In the earliest stages of preparation for the election, the government opted to ignore one clause of the election law, which dictates that the number of seats should increase with the population. Had this been followed, approximately twelve to fourteen seats should have been added. The government claimed that it could not afford to pay the additional members, though it has found the resources to pay hundreds of government, National Assembly and Senate advisors. As a result, the representation of some constituencies will be diluted.

Questions about the NEC's capacity and impartiality
In past elections, the NEC has been severely criticized for its political bias and its questionable administrative capacity, particularly in light of its inability and unwillingness to respond to political violence and intimidation before the 1998 election, the utter failure of its complaints process after the 1998 election, and its failure to respond to political violence and intimidation before the 2002 commune elections. NEC decisions rarely, if ever, disadvantage the ruling party. In addition, the PECs and CECs, which are crucial arbiters of local electoral disputes, are typically composed almost exclusively of members or supporters of the CPP.

The selection process and composition of NEC members remains a contentious issue, as the election laws continue to give the right of selecting potential candidates to the CPP-dominated Ministry of Interior (MOI), with those candidates subsequently confirmed by the National Assembly. For the 2003 election, the NEC has been reduced from eleven to five members. Three are CPP loyalists, while two are Funcinpec appointees. The SRP, the third party in the National Assembly, was not given the opportunity to participate in the selection process, which lacked transparency.

Maintaining Security
Security for the election is a point of serious concern. The election law charges the NEC, the National Police, and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces jointly with maintaining security for the election. But each of these institutions is heavily politicized and supportive of the CPP, leaving them unlikely to report on government or party-based violence or intimidation. Reports of the United Nations and international and national human rights organizations have documented the fact that members of the police and military are the leading abusers--not defenders--of human rights. In most cases these abuses go unchecked, resulting in a pervasive culture of impunity.

In February 2003, the MOI established a Central Security Bureau for the Defense of Elections, a hybrid unit of military and national police that is to be trained specifically to handle violent demonstrations. Sar Kheng, the CPP Co-Minister of Interior, is the chief of this body, while Hok Lundy, Director-General of the National Police, is its secretary. Hok Lundy called a meeting on February 24 and announced that this force would "take down the demonstrators" of any party that challenged the election results. Opposition party activists and human rights NGOs have also expressed concern about the "Pagoda Boys," an organization of Hun Sen loyalists who have helped police disperse rallies and have publicly threatened members of Funcinpec and the SRP. The NEC is running a series of public service announcements on state TV and radio discouraging violence and intimidation in the run-up to the election, but this is a far cry from offering real security to all candidates, voters, election workers, and observers.