Holding Cambodia Accountable for Its Descent into One-Party Rule

Op-Ed: Cambodia Leadership Skills

Next Steps for Accountability

Given these new developments, the U.S. should take concerted action to hold Hun Sen and other cronies in the Cambodian government to account. The U.S. and Asia Heritage Foundationother key actors in the international community, including the European Union, signaled their disapproval of the dissolution of the opposition and deteriorating conditions in the country. These actions may have been too little too late. A more robust response should have been carried out five years ago after flawed 2013 elections revealed a state of deteriorating democracy in Cambodia.22 The U.S. should take further steps to hold the Cambodian government accountable:

  • Name and sanction Hun Sen and other party cadres for the role they play in undermining democracy in Cambodia. The U.S. Treasury Department should use all available tools in its toolbox to freeze and seize assets of known individuals actively obstructing freedom in Cambodia. It should expand its use of existing Global Magnitsky authorities and use any other relevant authorities to place individuals on the SDN list. Such an action would send a clear signal to Hun Sen that the U.S. will intervene in necessary ways to get Cambodia back on the path toward democratic reform.
  • Expand existing visa restrictions on Cambodian officials undermining democracy. The U.S. State Department should follow through on promises made in its condemnation of the July 2018 election to expand existing visa restrictions on Cambodian government officials. One potential way to expand these authorities would be to extend visa restrictions unequivocally to family members, especially to Hun Sen’s direct family members. (Current visa restrictions only apply to family members on a case-by-case basis.)23
  • Create and convene an emergency meeting of the Cambodia Contact Group comprised of parties to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, including the United States, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, the U.K., and France, to monitor and press for democratic reform. Among the purposes of the Paris agreement was to ensure “the right to self-determination of the Cambodian people through free and fair elections” and “assuring protection of human rights.”24 The signatories have a continuing moral obligation in this regard. The contact group should be used to coordinate human rights policies and assistance programs toward Cambodia. In short order, leaders from all of the countries at the foreign-minister level should convene to draw up coordinated plans to hold the Cambodian government accountable and get Cambodia back on the path toward reform.
  • Condition assistance to Cambodia on the health of democracy. The U.S. should adopt stringent metrics for determining whether Cambodia is eligible for key assistance programs. Such language could mirror proposed conditions in the 2019 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations bill.25 Language in the Senate version of the appropriations bill is particularly strong and specific. The U.S. government should conduct a thorough review of all assistance to Cambodia and consider instituting more severe restrictions on aid. Emphasis should be placed on holding the Cambodian government accountable without harming the people themselves.
  • Continue to press for the release of Kem Sokha. Every U.S. government statement issued in response to deteriorating conditions in Cambodia should continue to reference Kem Sokha’s imprisonment and request that the Cambodian government release him immediately. The U.S. government should also make clear that there will be additional consequences if Kem Sokha continues to be held. Without a swift, coordinated plan democracy may never be restored in Cambodia. The U.S. and the international community should learn from the mistakes of its limited response after the 2013 election and respond to the 2018 elections in an offensive, rather than defensive, manner. The U.S. should plan for conditions to continue to deteriorate and put in place mechanisms that ensure Hun Sen and his CPP cronies are held to account

Read more details at Asia Foundation…

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As Singapore dredges sand out from beneath Cambodia’s mangrove forests, an ecosystem, a communal way of life, and one woman’s relationship to her beloved home are faced with the threat of erasure.

I remember my first trip to the mangrove forests near the island of Koh Sralau and along Cambodia’s coastline. I had no idea how extensive the mangrove forests were or how spectacular they would be. The forests stretched for miles and miles, carving out small islands, narrow waterways and channels, and ecologically diverse estuaries. I wanted to document the impact of sand dredging on the mangroves and on the lives of the people who live and thrive in these forests and the oceans surrounding them.

For over a decade, the government of Cambodia has granted several private companies concessions to mine these mangrove forests for sand. Each year, millions of metric tons of sand are shipped to Singapore to enlarge this island nation’s land mass, while Cambodia destroys its only natural protection against erosion, rising sea levels, tsunamis, and hurricanes and lays waste to a vital and fragile ecosystem that thousands of families depend on for their livelihood.

Read more details at Emergence Magazine…

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In late July, Cambodia participated (sort of) in the General Election, without having the option to choose the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which had been dissolved by the Supreme Court last November. The landslide victory by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) all but assures Prime Minister Hun Sen of near total control of the country. For poll watchers, observers of democracy and human rights activists, the post-mortem reflection on Cambodia’s decline will be painful. But for how long? This brief analysis offers three likely developments in Cambodia that offer both a glimpse of optimism and words of warning.

No. 1: Any imposed sanctions on Cambodia will fail: When the CPP clamped down on political freedoms, Western governments reacted strongly, yet predictably. Economic sanctions were at the top of the list of suggested responses. The United States called forsanctions for Cambodia in January after the arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha. Recently, the U.S. and the European Union have called for sanctions on high-ranking officials and more, including thoughts of stripping Cambodia of tax-free access to Western textile markets. If implemented, the loss of revenue could top $650 million. While that wouldcause few reservations for the CPP and Prime Minister Hun Sen, the impact would be felt by up to a million poor Cambodians who work in the textile and garment industries. Sanctions would almost certainly jeopardize efforts to boost national economic standing. The World Bank graduated Cambodia from LDC to lower-middle-income status in 2016and the United Nations has been supporting the country in efforts to move to upper-middle income status by 2030. Threats of sanctions reflect myopic foreign policies that fail to grasp the larger economic and political landscape. While Cambodia will not be able to find alternative Chinese markets for their goods, they will find political solace from Beijing and a new source of legitimate criticism in which to rest short-term political futures. The Americans should learn from the past. The U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge gained to power in 1975 and kept them through 1992. Cambodia relied then on China and communist states for their economic survival and it will soon again. Economic sanctions simply don’t work. They rarely have.

No. 2: Cambodia’s civil society will re-emerge: Creeping authoritarianism in the months before the July 2018 election subjected Cambodian civil society groups working in Cambodia to repressive restrictions. Recently, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) found that the judiciary has been used by the government to tighten controls on civil society groups that the regime saw as a threat, including the closure of some independent media organizations, violent responses to demonstrations, and arbitrary detention and arrest of human rights and political activists. The government passed the Law on Associations and NGOs in 2015, which provided a legal means for threatening civil society groups. However, the cost of repression is often high and civil society often quickly learns to adapt to acts of state violence. One need only look at Cambodia’s neighbor to the west as an example. Thailand imposed a number of repressive laws in the aftermath of the 2014 coup d’etat. Groups of five people were banned from gathering in public, political activists were arrested, and thousands were forced into re-education camps. But, five years after the coup, civil society is showing signs of re-emergence. Unless Hun Sen is willing to use much more repressive means to curtail civil society activities, it is highly likely that CPP dominance will face the same legitimacy challenges Prayut and the NCPO face today. Discounting the power of civil society in Cambodia is to not properly remember its history. Cambodians who faced human rights challenges during the Khmer Rouge eramobilized society and formed the basis for a robust human rights movement–even before the arrival of UNTAC. While it may not emerge in the short-term, it will inevitably happen.

Continue reading Holding Cambodia Accountable for Its Descent into One-Party Rule

សេចក្តីថ្លែងការណ៍អំពីការបោះឆ្នោតនៅកម្ពុជា

Statement of Cambodia Election 29 July 2018-page-001គណៈកម្មាធិការដើម្បីសិទ្ធិបោះឆ្នោតរបស់ពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្រៅប្រទេសសូមថ្កោលទោសជាឱឡារិកដល់ការបោះឆ្នោតនៅថ្ងៃទី២៩ ខែកក្កដា ឆ្នាំ២០១៨ ដែលប្រព្រឹត្តឡើងប្រកបដោយភាពលំអៀង មិនសុក្រិត្តយុត្តិធម៌ និងជាការបោកបញ្ឆោតសំលេងម្ចាស់ឆ្នោតប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរ១៦លាននាក់។

គណៈកម្មការជាតិដើម្បីការបោះឆ្នោតឬហៅកាត់គជបជាអង្គភាពបង្គ្រប់កិច្ចអោយរដ្ឋាភិបាលដើម្បីបោកបញ្ឆោតប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរ។ គជបមានមនុស្សធ្វើការមកពីគណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា ហើយគណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជាបានរំកិលខ្លួនខ្ពស់ជាងស្ថាប័នជាតិសំខាន់ៗ។ ក្រោមការដឹកនាំរបស់លោកនាយករដ្ឋមន្ត្រីហ៊ុន-សែន ការអភិវឌ្ឍន៍សេដ្ឋកិច្ចនិងការកសាងហេដ្ឋារចនាសម្ព័ន្ធគឺគ្រាន់តែជាការលំអររូបភាពខាងក្រៅតែប៉ុណ្ណោះ ពីព្រោះក្នុងរយៈពេលជាង២២ឆ្នាំនេះ លោកហ៊ុន-សែននិងក្រុមរបស់គាត់បានបំលែងប្តូរនូវស្ថាប័នជាតិដោយជំនួសវិញគឺក្រុមស្វាមីភក្តិរបស់គាត់និងគណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា។

យើងខ្ញុំសូមអំពាវនាវអោយប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្រៅប្រទេសទាំងអស់ត្រូវឈរប្រកៀកស្មារជាមួយបងប្អូនប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្នុងប្រទេសក្នុងការជំរុញអោយស្តារលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យឡើងវិញ មានការបោះឆ្នោតឡើងវិញដែលអាចឆ្លុះបញ្ចាំងឆន្ទៈប្រជាពលរដ្ឋពិតប្រាកដក្នុងការជ្រើសរើសតំណាងរបស់ខ្លួន។ សហគមន៍អន្តរជាតិជាពិសេសប្រទេសប្រកាន់របបប្រជាធិបតេយ្យត្រូវអនុវត្តន៍ជាក់ស្តែងជាជាងគ្រាន់តែសំដែងចំណាប់អារម្មណ៍និងសេចក្តីថ្លែងការណ៍មិនទទួលស្គាល់ការបោះឆ្នោតនេះ។ ជាមេរៀន សូមអោយក្រុមអ្នកប្រជាធិបតេយ្យនិងសហគមន៍អន្តរជាតិធ្វើការផ្លាស់ប្តូរទិសពីការពង្រឹងសមត្ថភាពប្រជាពលរដ្ឋម្នាក់ៗមកជាការពង្រឹងស្ថាប័នជាតិវិញ ព្រោះក្នុងរយៈពេល២៧ឆ្នាំនេះ ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរម្នាក់ៗបានយល់សុីជម្រៅនូវខ្លឹមសារលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យបានមួយចំនួនធំហើយ តែពួកគេនៅជាជនរងគ្រោះពីគណបក្សកាន់អំណាចដែលគ្របសង្កត់ទាំងស្រុងទៅលើស្ថាប័នជាតិ។

Committee for Election Rights of Overseas Cambodians (The CEROC) solemnly condemns the national election conducted in July 29, 2018 which has been in bias, unfair, and manipulating the 16 millions of Cambodian population.

National Election Committee (NEC) is the biased body commissioned to manipulate the Cambodian people. NEC has employed staffs majorly from ruling party (CPP), and CPP has embodied themselves higher than key national institutions. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, economic development and infrastructure are just a decoration of outside look because during his mandate of over 22 years, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his entourages have exchanged national institutions to replacing with his loyalists and CPP party.

We would like to appeal all Cambodians overseas to firmly shoulder with Cambodian people inside the country to demand the returning back of democracy in Cambodia, to conduct a new election that could reflect the will of the people in choosing their representatives. International communities particularly those democratic countries must take action rather than just expressing concerns and making statement of election condemnation. As lessons learnt, all democrats and international communities should make change of their direction from individual citizens’ capacity building to strengthening national institutions because during this period of 27 years, individual Cambodian has deepened knowledge of democracy principles but they have been remained victim of CPP that has evolved themselves to control major national institutions.

អានសេចក្តីថ្លែងការណ៍ទាំងស្រុង Read complete statement in pdf

កិច្ចព្រមព្រៀងសន្តិភាពទីក្រុងប៉ារីសនិងការស្លាប់នៃលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យអាណត្តិទី៦នេះ

កិច្ចព្រមព្រៀងសន្តិភាពទីក្រុងប៉ារីសនិងការស្លាប់នៃលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យអាណត្តិទី៦នេះ

Mr. Kemsrean Kheng, The CEROC's Representative for State of Minnesota, USA

Mr. Kemsrean Kheng, The CEROC’s Representative for State of Minnesota, USA

ខ្ញុំបាទខេង គិមស្រ៊ាន ថ្ងៃនេះមានកិត្តិយសតាងនាមអោយគណៈកម្មការដើម្បីសិទ្ធិបោះឆ្នោតរបស់ពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្រៅប្រទេសឬដែលហៅកាត់ថាដឺស៊ីរ៉ក់ក៏ដូចជាលោកសេង សុភ័ណដែលជាប្រធាន មកជាវាគ្មិនក្នុងមហាសន្និបាតខ្មែរពិភពលោកលើកទីពីរនៅរដ្ឋមិននីសូតានេះ។

បងប្អូនជនរួមជាតិជាទីគោរពរាប់អាន ពិភពលោកបានចេញចាកផុតពីយុគសង្រ្គាមត្រជាក់ឈានចូលយុគបច្ចុប្បន្ន ហើយកម្ពុជាដ៏អភ័ព មួយនេះបានស្គាល់ពន្លឺប្រជាធិបតេយ្យខ្លះក្រោមការជ្រោមជ្រែងរបស់អង្គការសហប្រជាជាតិអោយមានការបោះឆ្នោតនៅឆ្នាំ១៩៩៣ទៅតាមកិច្ចសន្យា នៃកិច្ចព្រមព្រៀងសន្តិភាពទីក្រុងប៉ារីស២៣ តុលា ១៩៩១។ កាលនោះ ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្រៅប្រទេសបានមានសិទ្ធិចូលរួមបោះឆ្នោតយ៉ាងពេញ លេញ តែក្រោយៗមកក្រោមការដឹកនាំនៃគណៈកម្មការជាតិរៀបចំការបោះឆ្នោតឬគជប ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្រៅប្រទេសមិនត្រូវបានគេផ្តល់សិទ្ធិ អោយចូលរួមបោះឆ្នោតឡើយ។ ចាប់កំណើតកាលពីឆ្នាំ២០១៤ ស៊ីរ៉ក់បានធ្វើកិច្ចការជាច្រើនក្នុងការធ្វើយុទ្ធនាការប្រមូលញត្តិពីបងប្អូនយើងនៅក្រៅ ប្រទេសទាំងអស់ ក្នុងនោះក៏មានបងប្អូនយើងជាច្រើននៅរដ្ឋមីននីសូតាបានចូលរួមចុះហត្ថលេខា ហើយយើងខ្ញុំសូមថ្លែងអំណរគុណយ៉ាងជ្រាល ជ្រៅនៅទីនេះ, យើងបានជួបពិភាក្សាជាមួយគជបថ្មីមានលោកគួយ ប៊ុនរឿន លោករ៉ុង ឈុនជាដើម ហើយយើងបានសរសេរលិខិតទៅកាន់ប្រធានក្រុម តំណាងរាស្ត្រគណបក្សសំលេងភាគតិចគឺលោកស៊ុន-ឆ័យនៃគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិ។ ពង្រាងច្បាប់មួយបានកើតឡើងដាក់ចូលសភាដើម្បីធ្វើវិសោធ នកម្មតូចមួយដែលអាចអោយពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្រៅប្រទេសអាចមានសិទ្ធិបោះឆ្នោតបាន។ តែជាអកុសល ក្រោមការដឹកនាំរបស់លោកហ៊ុន-សែន មិនមែនតែពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្រៅប្រទេសទេដែលត្រូវបានគេផាត់ចោលនិងព្រងើយកន្តើយ ពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនៅក្នុងប្រទេសក៏ត្រូវបានគេលាបព៌ណនិងធ្វើទុក្ខបុកម្នេញគ្រប់បែបយ៉ាងដោយគ្រាន់តែពួកគេមាននិន្នការគាំទ្រគណបក្សជំទាស់ឬនិន្នាការកណ្តាលដូចជាក្រុមសង្គមស៊ីវិល។

មកដល់ថ្ងៃនេះគឺ២៧ឆ្នាំហើយក្រោយកិច្ចព្រមព្រៀងសន្តិភាពទីក្រុងប៉ារីស ដែលប្រទេសកម្ពុជាក្រោមការដឹកនាំរបស់លោកហ៊ុន-សែន បានបំផ្លាញចោលលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យសេរីពហុបក្សចោលដោយសារតែមើលឃើញថាគណបក្សជំទាស់គឺគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិអាចមានប្រជាពល- រដ្ឋគាំទ្រច្រើនជាងខ្លួនបើទុកអោយមានការប្រកួតប្រជែងការបោះឆ្នោតមួយដោយសុក្រឹតត្រឹមត្រូវនិងយុត្តិធម៌។ ការបោះឆ្នោតថ្ងៃ២៩ កក្កដា ២០១៨ គឺជាឆាកល្ងោនប្រជាភិថុតបោកប្រាស់ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរថាមានពហុបក្សតែប៉ុណ្ណោះ។ តែតាមការពិតប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរនិងសហគមន៍អន្តរជាតិមិនអាច ទទួលយកបាននូវរបបដឹកនាំបែបឯកបក្សនិងផ្តាច់ការនេះបានទេ។ ក្រោមការជួយជ្រោមជ្រែងពីសហគមន៍អន្តរជាតិជាពិសេសប្រទេសហត្ថលេខីនៃ កិច្ចព្រមព្រៀងសន្តិភាពទីក្រុងប៉ារីស ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរទាំងក្នុងប្រទេសនិងក្រៅប្រទេសប្តេជ្ញាប្តូរប្តាច់អោយមានការបោះឆ្នោតឡើងវិញ មានការចូល រួមពីគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិ មានការដោះលែងលោកកឹម-សុខានិងអ្នកទោសនយោបាយទាំងអស់ ទុកជាមោឃៈនូវច្បាប់ទាំងឡាយណាដែលផ្ទុយ ពីរដ្ឋធម្មនុញ្ញ និងអនុវត្តន៍ជាក់ស្តែងតាមរដ្ឋធម្មនុញ្ញដើម្បីអោយតុលាការឯករាជ្យ ពង្រឹងសមត្ថភាពស្ថាប័នព្រះមហាក្សត្រ មន្ត្រីរាជការទាំង ស៊ីវិលនិងកងប្រដាប់អាវុធត្រូវតែឯករាជ្យជាដើម។ សូមអរគុណជាអនេកកប្បការ!           ថ្ងៃទី៤ ខែសីហា ២០១៨

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Fake Monitors Endorse Cambodia’s Sham Election

Fake Monitors Endorse Cambodia’s Sham Election

Op-Ed: Foreign Policy

Dubious electoral endorsements are becoming normal for dictators worldwide.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) casts his vote during the general elections as his wife Bun Rany (centre L) looks on in Phnom Penh on July 29, 2018. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) casts his vote during the general elections as his wife Bun Rany (centre L) looks on in Phnom Penh on July 29, 2018. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Cambodians went to the polls last weekend, but it was a sham of an election, dominated by Hun Sen, the country’s aging autocrat. With the opposition party banned and soldiers at polling booths to ensure the outcome went only one way, no credible organization signed off on the election’s validity—but quite a few fake organizations did.

Election observation in authoritarian regimes is a relatively new phenomenon. Beginning in the late 1980s, the number of elections monitored by intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and sovereign states increased substantially. This brought increased criticism of the behavior of authoritarian regimes, which signaled their compliance to the norm of external observation in exchange for certain benefits, such as legitimacy, foreign direct investment, and membership in international organizations. This gave democracy promotion actors, which coordinated a majority of election-monitoring missions, newfound leverage over the behavior of authoritarian regimes. In the last decade, however, dictators have fought back.

Writing in Foreign Policy in October 2013, Christopher Walker and Alexander Cooley identified the sudden emergence and increasing use of what they termed “zombie monitors” among a small group of savvy dictators. In the intervening years, there has been a wider effort to understand how exactly these groups erode domestic perceptions of electoral integrity and corrode the international norm of external election observation.

The inconvenient truth, however, is that our determination to identify and analyze these zombie monitors has not kept pace with the more cunning ways dictators have subsequently deployed them. The last few years has witnessed a few distinct changes in the use of fake election observation groups, which has coincided with the rise of more sophisticated forms of cooperation among authoritarian regimes.

The existence of zombie monitors generally does not become apparent until they release a deceptive statement after the election outcome, which makes glowing reference to the vagaries of integrity, peace, stability, and transparency. The opportunity to observe zombie monitors before they reveal themselves is thus rare. Unless, of course, you look to Cambodia’s general election last weekend.

With no credible groups willing to validate a sham election, Hun Sen turned to zombie monitors to do so. This included more well-known groups such as the Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International, International Conference of Asian Political Parties, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. All of them have a documented history of prejudicial election assessments.

At the center of the zombie horde in Cambodia last weekend was Anton Caragea, who has established tiesto Hun Sen and who has previously bestowed strange awards upon dictators in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Zimbabwe. Caragea’s Twitter account is a stream of praise for Cambodia and Hun Sen.  Using his leadership of the European Council on International Relations (not to be confused with the European Council on Foreign Relations), Caragea has also previously providedflattering assessments of highly flawed elections in Kazakhstan.

Described as a professor of international relations from Spiru Haret University in Bucharest (declared to be a “diploma mill” by local journalists), Caragea is the recipient of dubious titles and awards bestowed by dictators around the world. He claims to be the author of 20 books and more than 300 articles across the fields of cultural history, development, heritage, history, humanitarian activities, international relations and diplomacy, political and economic doctrines, and theology. None of these books appear anywhere online, except on his website.

To lend credibility to Hun Sen’s sham election, Caragea has mobilized a horde of zombie monitors, listed on his own website, including the Diplomatic Center, Institute of International Relations and Economic Cooperation, European Council on Tourism and Trade, European Council on International Relations, European Diplomatic Academy, Parliamentary Assembly for Sustainable Development Goals, and World Elections Monitors Organization. Despite the plethora of names, Caragea appears to be either the director or president of every single group. A preliminary monitoring report released by a few of them declared that the election has all the hallmarks of being a “transparent, free, fair and democratic valid polls.” In a meeting with Hun Sen the morning after the vote, Caregea congratulated the dictator for holding a “free, fair and transparent election.”

Cambodia isn’t the only country using such groups.

Eurasia was the birthplace of zombie monitors. In their original analysis, Walker and Cooley identified the deployment of these groups in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia. The scourge of fake election observation groups is now a global problem. In May, for example, then-Prime Minister Najib Razak attempted to use the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre to lend credibility to the general election. (This represents an exceptional case of a dictator who used a zombie election monitor and still lost an election.) Similar zombie monitors have been reported in Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, to name but a few countries. The appeal of fake election observation groups is evidently spreading.

Beyond the fact that zombie monitors are now operating on four continents, the target of their subterfuge has also expanded. The initial purview of these groups was national elections held periodically for executive and legislative office. Despite that still being the primary focus, dictators have begun employing zombie monitors for subnational elections and referendums. In Venezuela, for example, President Nicolás Maduro had the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America give a clean bill of health to the 2017 gubernatorial elections, which were judged to be clean and transparent by its 1,300-member delegation. In Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin used the Eurasian Observatory for Democracy and Elections to recruit scores of politicians from far-right parties to validate the 2014 Crimea referendum, which was regarded as illegitimate by the European Union and the United States.

Another distinct change in the way authoritarian regimes employ fake election observation groups is denoted by the decline of regional zombies. The most systematic account of this phenomenon identifies intergovernmental organizations or international nongovernmental organizations run by authoritarian states as the main antagonists, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But in recent years dictators have increasingly turned to an endless array of smaller organizations, some of them and some themselves with ties to authoritarian states.  In such cases, prominent individuals representing these organizations have been recruited as agents of manipulation and misconduct.

The few distinct changes dictators have made to the deployment of fake election observation groups has compounded the difficulty of identifying and analyzing their activities. The zombie show taking place in Cambodia this weekend represents the most egregious example yet of an authoritarian regime using fake election observation groups.

Despite the growing audacity of dictators, a coordinated response from the democratic states that have long promoted the international norm of external election observation has yet to emerge. The evolution of zombie monitors requires demands more resources be devoted to identifying, analyzing and, ultimately, discrediting them. The worst-case scenario is that these fake election observation groups become indistinguishable in the public eye from professional observation groups. This eventuality would do quick and lasting damage to the cause of democracy around the world.

Lee Morgenbesser is an assistant professor at Griffith University’s School of Government and International Relations in Australia. His most recent book is Behind the Façade: Elections under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia.