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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thumbprints of 20,000 voters back fraud claim

Sam Rainsy Party submits vast body of evidence to Constitutional Council in effort to substantiate allegations of electoral fraud by the ruling CPP

THE thumbprints of 20,000 disenfranchised voters were submitted to the Constitutional Council Tuesday as part of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party's drive to substantiate its allegations that the July 27 ballot is invalid due to systematic electoral fraud.

"We have presented evidence and witnesses to the Constitutional Council and we will answer all of their questions," Kong Sam On, a lawyer acting for the SRP, told reporters waiting in the Senate compound, near to where the Council convenes.

Kong Sam On said that the Constitutional Council had summoned party officials for questioning in relation to the complaints.

"We hope that a hearing will happen within the next two weeks," he added.

Constitutional Council spokesman Pen Thol told the Post that the Council has yet to rule on the opposition's complaints.

However, he said the Council intended to rule on the complaints prior to the announcement of the official election results by the National Election Committee (NEC) which are due September 17.

SRP President Sam Rainsy told reporters that he is scheduled to fly to foreign countries that are signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, saying that when they signed the accords they committed themselves to helping guarantee free and fair elections in Cambodia.

"Electoral fraud is still a huge problem and stripped many voters of the right to cast their ballots," Sam Rainsy said, adding that international pressure could highlight the government's actions.

"We hope that independent countries will condemn the NEC for playing a role in stealing votes for the CPP."

King Norodom Sihamoni is scheduled to preside over the inauguration and swearing-in of the new National Assembly on September 24, but Sam Rainsy said that the opposition parties were not interested in the formation of a new government.
"I am not interested in other issues at the moment, and I am focusing on the Constitutional Council," he said.

Despite continued threats by the opposition to boycott the swearing-in ceremony, the ruling Cambodian People's Party has pledged to go ahead, issuing warnings that opposition lawmakers not present at the event could forfeit their seats in the Assembly. .
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Cambodia's opposition has key role to play

Hong Kong, China — The ruling Cambodian People's Party won a landslide victory in the country’s general election on July 27, claiming 90 out of 123 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house in the bicameral parliamentary system – although final results will not be announced till September.

This party almost wiped out its long-standing coalition partner, the Funcinpec party, which saw its seats reduced from 26 to two. Two newly formed parties, the Norodom Ranariddh Party and the Human Rights Party, took two and three seats respectively, while the opposition Sam Rainsy Party increased its seats from 24 to 26.

At first all four small parties rejected the results of the election, alleging it was "rigged" when names of legitimate voters were deleted from electoral rolls while illegitimate voters were allowed to vote. Apparently attracted by the winning party's offer of government positions, Funcinpec soon changed its mind and accepted the election results.

Later on, the Norodom Ranariddh Party also changed its mind, apparently in exchange for the winning party's support for a royal pardon for its leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who faces an 18-month jail sentence for breach of trust and who has been living in self-imposed exile abroad.

The other two parties, Sam Rainsy and Human Rights, have however continued to reject the election results and have filed complaints against election irregularities. They have also threatened to boycott the opening of the new Parliament.

Hun Sen, the incumbent prime minister and vice president of the winning Cambodian People's Party, has angrily reacted to this threat and has warned that the seats of the boycotting parties would be taken away from them and given to other parties, although there are no constitutional provisions for such a measure.

In the midst of this post-election conflict, it has been announced that the King of Cambodia will act according to the country's Constitution and summon all the lawmakers-elect to the first meeting of the new Parliament on Sept. 24. The Sam Rainsy Party has said that its lawmakers-elect will not be sworn in and take up their seats until its complaints have been properly addressed.

As is widely known, the winning party – the former communist party that has ruled Cambodia for over 20 years – has complete control over all of the country's institutions from top to bottom, including the two adjudicating mechanisms for election irregularities, that is, the National Election Committee, which is also an election management board, and the Constitutional Council.

It is very unlikely that the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party will have their complaints addressed properly by these two institutions.

In the meantime the ruling Cambodian People's Party seems set to prevent these two parties from playing any active role in the new Parliament, especially the Sam Rainsy Party whose leader, Sam Rainsy, has had continued acrimonious relations with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is known as "the strongman of Cambodia."

If the ruling party uses its overwhelming majority to forge ahead with the marginalization of the opposition, the Cambodian system of government will evolve into an elected dictatorship – all the more so when its judiciary, as is also well known, is under political control. With command over Parliament and control of all the country's institutions, the ruling party can, as it has done before, enact any law and amend the Constitution to remove all obstacles to its rule.

This development is a break from the practice of the previous Parliament, in which the opposition Sam Rainsy Party had 24 seats and an important role as chair of two out of nine parliamentary committees. The new situation is not conducive to the development of the liberal democracy Cambodia has embraced in its Constitution.

With the absence of an opposition role, the new Parliament cannot be seen as representing the entire nation, only the majority of its citizens who voted for the Cambodian People's Party. This Parliament will lose its status and role as one of the three branches of government.

Checks and balances between these three branches and the separation of powers will completely disappear. Cambodia will then become practically a one-party state, a development which is not friendly to democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

In order to avoid all these negative developments, Cambodia's new Parliament should continue the practice of its predecessor. In order to represent the entire nation it must allow the opposition parties to be an integral part of the Parliament and assume the chairmanship of some of its nine committees, so the opposition can play an active role in the governance of the nation.

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Singapore welcomes moves by Thailand, Cambodia to resolve temple dispute

SINGAPORE, Singapore Wednesday welcomed the efforts of Thailand and Cambodia to hold talks on the Preah Vihear Temple issue.

A spokesman for the Singapore Foreign Ministry said in a statement that resolving the disagreement in an amicable manner was in line with the spirit of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) solidarity and good neighborliness.

The spokesman added, Singapore wishes them well in their continuing efforts to work towards a good outcome for both sides.

Cambodia and Thailand announced earlier that they have agreed to arrange a second-phase troop redeployment at the disputed border area near the temple.

The Preah Vihear Temple straddles the Cambodian-Thai border atop the Dangrek Mountain and was listed as a World Heritage Site on July 7 by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice decided that the 11-century temple and the land around belongs to Cambodia, which rankled the Thais and has led to continuous disputes.
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HIV/AIDS rate expected to keep declining in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- The number of Cambodians with HIV or AIDS has plummeted from the country's all-time high in the late 1990s and experts expect its prevalence to continue dropping in the foreseeable future, national media said Wednesday.

"This is good news," English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily quoted Mean Chhi Vun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS), as commenting on NCHADS' latest report.

"As a program manager, I am very happy because this shows we have successfully slowed down or controlled the HIV epidemic through prevention, care and treatment," he added.

Recent sample tests in 22 provinces and municipalities throughout Cambodia tell NCHADS that some 14 percent female sex workers are thought to have HIV/AIDS, as opposed to 43 percent in 1998, and 1.1 percent this year as opposed to 2.1 percent in 1998 among pregnant women.

Meanwhile, the infection rate of the disease is now kept under one percent in the kingdom, said the tests.

The decline can be attributed to increased condom use and high treatment rates, according to NCHADS officials.

The infection rate of HIV/AIDS in Cambodian once reached 3.3 percent at its peak in 1997.
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