“A democratic society that democratisation in particular democratic elections are promoted and qualified to bring benefit to people”
Missions: To help to create an informed and favourable climate 1)- for free and fair elections through lobbying and advocacy for a suitable legal framework, education to inform voters of their rights and monitoring activities that both discourage irregularities and provide comprehensive monitoring data to enable an objective, non-partisan assessment of the election process, and 2)- for meaningfulness of post elections through education and public forums to encourage citizens to participate in politics and decision-making, advocacy/lobby for electoral reforms that increase accountability of elected officials and provide comprehensive monitoring data to enable an objective, non-partisan assessment of the fulfillment of political platform and performance of elected officials.
A Civil Society “Task Force” on Cambodia Election came together provided an independent domestic monitoring team for the May 1993 elections organised by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). Cambodia’s foremost human rights organisations – like ADHOC (Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association), Human Rights Vigilance -, pooled their efforts in lead the Task Force and in a determination to promote the success of the UNTAC administered national democratic election. The Task Force worked in close collaboration with international organisations throughout Cambodia in order to monitor the electoral process, before, during and after polling day. The Task Force managed to provide civic and voter education to over one million voters, and selected, trained and deployed 200 Cambodian election observers.
Although the “UNTAC” elections and outcome will always be the subject of historical debate, the Task Force demonstrated very clearly that effective domestic civil society input was an indispensable part of the new democracy. Accordingly in December 1995, these human right organizations with other civil society organisations thus formed the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia – COMFREL.
COMFREL has now participated in the 1998, 2003, 2008, AND 2013 National Assembly Elections, and the 2002, 2007 and 2012 Commune Council Elections. COMFREL is currently engaged in lobbying and advocating for improvements to the legal framework for political and electoral reforms; it has active preparations for future civic education and it also monitors the performance of parliamentary members to assess their fulfillment of political platforms. COMFREL endeavors to build the capacity of its own network as well as those with our partners at national and provincial levels. COMFREL conducts public forums and assesses performance of commune councils, by focusing on the issues of local governance and participation of citizens in local bodies to build democracy from village-level upwards.
COMFREL has built up a unique national representative network. This is membership-based, with a high degree of ownership, a joint purpose and a legitimate and strategic governance advocacy programme. COMFREL has good collaboration with various human rights, governance and democracy organizations, including those associated with its networks through establishment of the situation room on Cambodian Election Day and Electoral Reform Alliance. Together, this holds meetings with the Royal Government of Cambodia, the Ministry of Interior (MoI), legislators, political parties, donors, embassies, and the electorate (directly through networks set up by COMFREL at the local level.) The network provides a structure though which diverse activities can be implemented, beyond the political agenda for which they were established.
In 2013 there are eight ( 10 ) member NGOs active on the Board of COMFREL: Cambodian Human Right and Development Association (ADHOC), Cambodian Centre for Protection of Children’s Rights (CCPCR), Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP), Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre (CWCC), Human Rights Vigilance, Khmer Youth Association (KYA), Youth Resource Development Program-YRDP, People Development and Peace Centre (PDP), Human Rights Organization for Transparency, Peace (HROTP) and The Cambodian Preservation Development Ecology and Wildlife (CPDEW).
COMFREL has two mission goals. The first core mission goal was to help create an informed and favorable climate for free and fair elections. The second mission goal was to strengthen the meaningfulness of post-election periods by encouraging citizens to participate in democratic governance and decision making in order to implement reforms and increase accountability of elected officials.
COMFREL’s principal movements and major changes can be divided into stages through lobbying and advocacy for a suitable legal framework and reform, education to inform voters of their rights and monitoring activities that both discourage irregularities and provide comprehensive monitoring data to enable an objective, non-partisan assessment of the election process and the fulfillment of political platform and performance of elected officials, and public forums and workshops to encourage citizens to participate in politics and decision making
First stage (1997-1999) “Peace Restoration and Commitment to Regular Elections ”:
The aspirations of many for Cambodia’s recent democracy were dashed in July 1997 by the armed confrontation that removed the first Prime Minister (Prince Norodom Ranarridh) and leader of the party that took most seats in the 1993 elections. Despite this setback, COMFREL began advocating and lobbying for full peace restoration, political stability and adherence to the commitment for regular and free elections with new elections due in 1998. The fragile situation was hampered by the former prime minister living in exile and a pronounced fear of political activity by non-ruling party workers – there have been no proper investigation into the extra-judicial killings following the July coup.
COMFREL’s efforts contributed to creating an improving climate making the 1998 elections which were fixed for July possible including some amendments to the election law and administration of election law. The campaigns and polls went ahead, hardly in the right circumstances for a free and far election, but better than no election at all. Opposition parties had little time to re-group, media access did not appear to be equal, and incidences of voter and party worker intimidation were reported.
COMFREL once again mobilised and fielded morethan 10,000 observers nationwide, covering more than 95% of all polling stations and vote counting centres. In the aftermath of the poll held on July 1998, COMFREL kept up its monitoring of post-election developments and analysed its observers’ reports. However the pre-election circumstances combined with alleged irregularities in the vote and count meant that the outcome was contested. CPP won a simple majority but less than the two thirds needed to rule alone. FUNCINPEC and Sam Rainsy party supporters mounted a prolonged demonstration against the results but eventually this was broken up by the authorities and violence ensued in the streets of Phnom Penh. The stand-off continued for more several weeks. COMFREL found itelf in company with King Sihanouk in exhorting the politicians to get together for the National Assembly to convene and a legitimate government to be formed. Eventually this occurred in November 1998 but only due to FUNCINPEC abandoning its post-election pact with the Sam Rainsy party. The CPP/FUNCINPEC accommodation was reached partly with one major constitutional change – the addition of a non-elected second chamber, the Senate.
Second stage (2000-2003) “Towards Increased technical Credibility of Elections throught Comprehensive Activities of Elections”: COMREL set itself the task of learning from the 1993 and 1998 experience by working towards a better climate in 2003. It provided new professional and comprehensive election activities with more advocacy for better election laws and regulations, campaigns, observations, network capacity building and voter education. Those activities were proven to be effective by accomplishing increased technical credibility in the 2002 Commune Council Elections and the 2003 National Assembly Election. The monitoring performed by COMFREL in cooperation with other local and international election monitoring organizations such as Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) and political parties did help to improve electoral processes such as registration, electoral commissions, complaints, media access, and roles of civil servants to be more transparent and effective. Unfortunately, the 2003 election outcome was a re-run of the 1998 one with the results contested and a new government formed only after FUNCINPEC once again abandoned the Sam Rainsy party. However a 73 action point platform was agreed by the two party coaltion and this formed the basis of a new project of COMFREL to monitor performance towards implementing them.
Third Stage (2004-2007) “Political Capital Enhanced” through conduction of local forums and establishment of local watchdog to increase popular participation in local democratic governance and regular interaction with elected and government officials.
Increased citizen action and engagement with commune councilors has occurred through NGOs. Forum Syd and Diakonia’s Evaluation Report of October 2005 (Logarta et al., 2005) found out that there was an ‘increase in men and women’s participation in public forums; in villages, respondents report more active participation in public forums called by commune councils and public forums sponsored by NGOs on general development issues concerning their respective communities’. COMFREL has contributed to increasing the engagement of local people with commune council and citizens, given people an opportunity to raise problems and local issues for response. COMFREL conducted 259 local public forums with the attendance of commune councilors and citizens in 259 communes (each forum saw the attendance of around 60 local residents, five commune councilors and three to four village chiefs). Commune councilors recognized the credibility of these forums and paid attention to them; there was also a noticeable attitude change, whereby commune councilors became more active in attending activities organized by COMFREL afterwards.
There was increasing youth participation in the elections monitoring process and local watchdogs. COMFREL, in cooperation with civil society, in particular youth organizations, greatly encouraged youths to participate in election activities. 6,397 COMFREL observers, equal to 67% of the total number of youth observers, were under 30 years old.
There was increased female representation. Gender equality endorsement, through increased awareness among women and men, improved attitudes of political parties and enhanced capacity of female elected officials; Heightened level of practice and political participation of women, and youth along with a realisation of the benefits of participation.
Fourth Stage (2008-2012 ) “Strengthen Citizen’s Participation in Decision Making and Democratic Governance”, COMFREL began to establish “ voter voice” that encourage voters to demand the fulfilment of the benchmarks, local agendas, and the political platform to the performance of national elected officials, elected councils and political parties.
COMFREL’s “Civil Society Voice” radio broadcast programme, publication of the Neak Kloam Meul bulletin, emailing ‘hot’ political issues to our 1,500 subscribers, issuing press statements for publication in local newspapers, and through information contained on our website. The annual report notes a total of 110,000 website visitors for the October 2008 to September 2010 period (estimated 63,000 Cambodian visitors). Articles on various topics are also produced and published in Government Watch reports and local newspapers. Four volumes of the COMFREL Bulletin were distributed and reached 14,832 readers over the past year. The radio programme saw rising interest from civil society organisations. The radio programme includes roundtable discussions on issues for youth, teachers, lawyers and journalists. According to a recent survey 6.3% of the total population have listened to COMFREL’s daily radio programme the ‘Voice of Citizens’,69% of these are regular listeners Campaigns were organised with other groups on good governance and with the NGO Forum on Cambodia for the Poverty Reduction Strategy along with other campaigning activities .
The strengths identified from monitoring sessions indicated COMFREL’s good cooperation between local authorities, civil society organizations and local communities; appropriate venues selected for public forum; a good preparatory process with local partners, political parties and authorities resulting to active discussions and well representation of participants. The weaknesses are minor: working groups task not clearly understood, some volunteers selected without rigid procedures or weak SMS-know-how of volunteers from remote areas , adjustment in time schedules due to late attendance by participants coming from far areas, lack of representation from other political parties due to local authorities’ bias, logistical issues like lack of seats, weak facilitators, lack of technical tools, remoteness of the area and weak comprehension by elderly participants. Most of the weaknesses are resolvable by more systematic supervision by Provincial Secretaries of the work process. The impact of COMFREL’s strategies on strengthening fairness and integrity in the elections of 2012 are difficult to ascertain, given the limited outcomes seen in the democratic reform standards due to obstacles by the CPP-dominated state system.
Fifth Stage (2013 – up to now) “Strengthening the demand for reforms and democratic governance”
The NEC final election results of the parliamentary election 2013 indicate a fundamental change in voter support. Significant vote losses for the CPP for the first time since 1993 were observed. Since the first NATIONAL Assembly A elections after the civil war in 1993, the CPP had continuously increased its voter support from 40% in 1993 to 42% in 1998 to 47% in 2003 and to 58% in 2008. But in 2013 the trend reversed to a declining voter support to 48%. Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) gains 44.5%. The members of the nation assembly CPP gets 68 seats and CNRP gets 55 seats. On 16 September 2013, the two main political parties, Cambodian People Party (CPP) and Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) have agreed to establish a mechanism to implement the election reform. The CNRP boycotted the new National Assembly and many led mass-demonstrations demanding investigations into alleged electoral irregularities by an independent commission with civil society organizations and international support.
Although after the elections, politically deepened divisions between the CNRP and CPP have created problem, this situation would be a good opportunity to push increased political dynamics for real change of the reforms. On 16 and 17 September 2013, and 03 March 2014 the two main political parties, the Cambodian People Party (CPP) and the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) agreed to establish a joint commission to implement the electoral reform with agreed key issues (such as voter registration/voter list, political campaign finance, election authority body, election dispute resolution mechanism, political party access to media).
Since 2013 post election the number of participants in demonstrations had grown by the end of 2013 to up to 100.000 in the capital Phnom Penh to demands for election reforms, new elections the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen and additional pressure was accumulating on the CPP led RGC with escalating labor protests in the textile sector at the same time.
COMREL has a Board of Directors, comprising 10 Cambodian NGO leaders and two individuals, who govern COMFREL and the Executive Committee. The board recruits and nominates the Executive Director for a three–year term of office. At the end of each term the Board reviews, and decides on the renewal or termination of the Executive Director. COMFREL’s Board of Directors conducts ordinary meetings twice a year, while during peak election advocacy work, meetings are held as often as monthly to receive reports from Executive Director, determine the overall direction of the organisation and approve key decisions.
The Executive Committee in Phnom Penh, chaired by the Executive Director, checks weekly progress reports from the different programmes. The Executive Director proposes the selection or termination of the program coordinator and any head of sections to the Executive Committee that decides such matters. Decisions may be refereed or subject to appeal by the selection or disciplinary commission and member(s) of Board of Directors.
The Executive Committee and the Central Office form the key unit that plans and organises the implementation of COMFREL’s programmes. The Executive Director, assisted by Programme Coordinator, heads the Executive Committee. Other members are the Administration Officer, Finance Officer and three other officers under the Program Coordinator in charge of specific areas of activity. There are five program units including adovicacy unit, netwrok unit, monitoring unit, gender unit and media unit.
The Central Office maintains communications, organizes training, and materials for COMFREL’s network in the provinces. The Provincial Executive Groups, comprising the provincial coordinators, secretariats, educator and monitor organise the work of the District Contact Persons and Commune Activists and provides training with assistance from the Central Office.
In each district, COMFREL has a District Contact Person, mainly responsible for maintaining contacts between communes and the Provincial Executive Group. Each commune has one or two activists who are called Commune Activists and local watchdogs.
|Mr. THUN Saray||Chair of BOD|
|Mr. SOK Sam Oeun||Vice Chair of BOD|
|Mr. YONG Kim Eng||Treasurer|
|Mr. YIM Po||Member|
|Ms. SUN Chansen||Member|
|Mr. MAK Chamroeun||Member|
|Ms. Pok Panhavichetr||Member|
|Mr. MOM Sarin||Member|
|Mr. KIM Sovann||Member|
|Mr. SEN Set||Member|
|Mr. CHEANG Sokha||Member|
|Mr. KOUL Panha||Executive Director|
1- Advocating for the election reform and input on legal frameworks
In cooperation with stakeholders, members of the situation room, CSOs and consultation with the public, COMFREL conduct advocacy activities through a series of meetings, consultation and seminars to set advocacy objectives and actions, legal studies and blueprint for the reform. The advocacy actions contribute to better legal frameworks and democratic governance policies, including those on election reform, freedom of information, freedom of expression and D&D and mainstreaming of participatory mechanisms of the National Assembly in draft law decision and policy development with the free flow of information at a level of transparency that complies with sound democratic and human rights principles.
2- Campaigning for democracy promotion
In cooperation with CSOs and youth organizations and human right organizations COMFREL optimize political socialization using new media and campaigning through radio, social media including Website, Facebook, YouTube, email lists, SMS, and printed publications to inform and educate the public about democracy, democratic governance and election reform while educate youths (new voters) about their democratic rights.
3- Networking and Monitoring through Strengthening Voter’s Voice and Capacity in Order to Increase More Democratic Accountability
COMFREL conducts government watch and parliamentary watch.
COMFREL build capacity its ‘watchdog’ network and young voters to help generate information and evidence based assessments of the performance of elected officials and their fulfillment of the political platforms of the government.
Voters ( Machas Chaut) are encouraged to assess, by being given a score card, on the performance of elected officials and their fulfillment of platform promises. COMFREL also encourage voters to define and assess the major local agenda implementation of commune councilors and the National Elected Official Fulfillment of Political Platform. COMFREL produce the annual report of the parliamentary watch and the annual report of government wactch and voter scorcard on the government fuulfillement.
4- Campaigning and Lobbying for Gender Equality
COMFREL cooperate with the Committee to Promote Women’s Political Participation (CPWP) and woman networks to encourage women political and social activists and continues help to building their capacity by ensuring sustained momentum in the advocacy and lobbying with promotion of an inclusive political policy and gender policy arising from their concerns.
The activities focus on the campaigning on “Women Cad Do It” and “Empowerment in Decision Making” the campaigning are made through radio broadcasts, social media and through organizing local advocacy.
COMFREL conduct the political gender watch on the situation of woman elected representatives and government officials in particular female councilors and woman their performance in decision-making.
5- Research, survey and audit on factors leading to democracy assessment and election reform in particular voter registration and voter list
The annual report on democracy and reform which follows focuses on COMFREL’s research, results and recommendations for electoral reform, an analysis of the state of the democracy and basic freedoms and democratic space, concerns about democratic governance in Cambodia.
The sustained surveying and auditing the voter registration and voter list ( SVRA) is an important tool for deterring irregularities and thus ameliorating the prevailing pattern of accuracy of the voter list. COMFREL wish to apply SVRA in order to improve the implementation of new voter registration and voter list system (drawn from the election reform) while help bring about the right to vote and universal suffrage that the Cambodian Constitution affords all its citizens.
6- Elections monitoring for strengthening confidence on elections
Monitoring so that elections, even in the most competitive constituencies are conducted as freely and fairly as possible. COMFREL’s experience has shown that despite formidable obstacles, systematic and comprehensive monitoring does contribute to improving the election environment and election administration. This sustained monitoring including long term observation, short term observation, media monitoring, campaign finance monitoring are an important tool for deterring violations and thus ameliorating the prevailing pattern of pre-election intimidation. The pending elections are in many respects more meaningful for the emerging democratic process as they have great potential to create new benefits for political participation, especially amongst the poor, women and youth who make up the majority of voters.
COMFREL is an independent, non-partisan NGO that collaborates and engages with a wide range of stakeholders, parners, alliances , working groups and coalition and human rights organizations:
COMFREL is a member of the Committee to Promote Women Political Participation (CPWP) while in cooperation with CPWP and other CSOs,
COMFREL is a member of the CSO working group of access to information (A2I) and cooperate with Advocacy Policy Institution- API to carry out activities on freedom of information including advocacy for a law on freedom of information.
COMFREL is a key member of the Election Reform Alliance (ERA) composed of 20 members orgnisations. COMFREL help coordinate activities including the advocacy and campaign on election reform in Cambodia.
COMFREL is a member of Coalition of Integrity and Social Accountably (CISA) while in cooperation with CISA COMFREL will conduct advocacy and campaign on against corruption.
COMFREL is a member of the working group of partnership of decentralization and de-concentration (WGPD)
COMFREL is a member of the alliance of freedom of expression while in cooperation with the alliance, COMFREL will join the advocacy and campaign on freedom of expression.
In cooperation Cambodian Center for Independent Media CCIM, COMFREL join the advocacy and campaign to support the freedom of journalists and media.
In cooperation with NGO Forum on Cambodia, COMFREL join advocacy and campaign on NGO statements for the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP),Government-Development Partners Coordination Committee (GDCC) and Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum (CDCF).
In cooperation with Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), COMFREL join activity and staments related to advocacy and campaign related to human rights and rule of law in particular political and civil rights.
In cooperation with Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC), COMFREL conduct advocacy and campaign on youth participation in politics.
In cooperation with Cambodian Disable People Organization-CDPO, COMFREL join activity on advocacy and campaign on disable people participation in election and politics.
For International partner and network:
COMFREL is member organization of Asian Network for Free Elections, ANFREL, which is based in Bangkok, Thailand. It strives to promote and support democratization at national and regional levels in Asia. COMFREL join the activity of ANFREL including international election observation missions to observe elections in Asia. COMFREL also join ANFREL to advocate for Free and Fair Elections in Asia and ASEAN political community on democracy and free and fair elections for ASEAN. The Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections has been endorsed by COMFREL. www.anfrel.org
COMFREL has been recognized as a founding member of the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), which is coordinated by NDI. Based on input from COMFREL and more than 100 other organizations, GNDEM is being established, in part, to facilitate the exchange of ideas, experiences and resources among regional associations of domestic monitors and individual domestic monitoring organizations around the world. A central element of the GNDEM initiative is a website (www.gndem.org) that includes resource materials of relevance to domestic monitors, produced by NDI and numerous other participating GNDEM organizations. The Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations and Code of Conduct for Nonpartisan Citizen Election Observers and Monitors have been endorsed by COMFREL.
COMFREL is a member of the CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of over 1,000 members and partners in over 100 countries. CIVICUS works to promote the emergence, growth and protection of citizen action and civil society around the world. Join CIVICUS: civicus.org/join. COMFREL attend and participate in its events related to citizen participation, participatory democracy and freedom of association.
COMFREL and its Executive Director, registered as an experienced practitioner/expert of the Electoral Knowledge Network (ACE) Practitioners’ Network. The ACE Practitioners’ Network is an online community for election professionals while they are able to share best practices and legal frameworks related election reform.
COMFREL is a participant of Asian Democracy Network-AND which is based in Seoul, South Korea. It strives to promote democracy in Asia. COMFREL particiapte and part of its netwrok and its events related to advocacy and campaign on democracy and peace.