The ruling CPP and opposition CNRP have filed a combined 39 official complaints over the running of Sunday’s commune elections while independent observers continue to criticize pre-election conditions that they say likely compromised the poll.
Hang Puthea, spokesman for the National Election Committee (NEC), said the NEC’s commune committees received 71 complaints from Sunday through Tuesday’s 11:30 a.m. deadline, including 20 from the CNRP and 19 from the CPP.
He would not elaborate on the nature of the complaints but said the commune committees had five days to either settle them or kick them up to the provincial committees if the complainants were still not satisfied. The provincial committees will then have another three days to settle the complaints before they reach the NEC.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan could not be reached for comment.
Meng Sopheary, the CNRP’s head of electoral and legislative affairs, said her party’s complaints included polling stations that failed to provide the final counts to observers or counts that were signed off by commune officials instead of election officials. Others included the intimidation of party observers and polling stations with upward of 50 spoiled ballots where the CNRP is asking for recounts.
“It could affect the results of the election,” she said of the reported irregularities.
The NEC has yet to release official final results. But government-aligned Fresh News has reported that the CPP won roughly 70 percent of the country’s 1,646 communes with most of the rest going to the CNRP, marking major gains for the opposition.
Transparency International Cambodia and a coalition of local NGOs calling themselves the “Situation Room”—which together sent thousands of observers across the country on Sunday—have both described Election Day irregularities as relatively minor and isolated, but said conditions leading up to the day kept the vote from being free and fair.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel), which has had 36 observers in the country since late last month, agreed. The Bangkok-based NGO lists Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections—a member of the Situation Room—as vice chairman.
At a news conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, the network said new election laws, a cleaner voter roll and a revamped NEC helped make Sunday’s vote a much smoother affair than past elections. But it complained about state resources being used to campaign for the CPP, vote-buying and the intimidation of political opponents, the media and NGOs.
“[T]hreats made directly to some of the country’s influential NGOs and media, along with a legal framework restricting the activities of NGOs and political parties, indicate that Cambodia has not yet reached the level playing field necessary for a healthy multi-party democracy,” Anfrel said in a statement.
It also blamed pre-election remarks by Prime Minister Hun Sen warning of war should the CPP lose, as well as declarations of undying support for the CPP and threats from a top military official to beat those who would not accept the election results, for eroding voter confidence. It said the criminal proceedings against a NEC official and former rights worker—a case that is widely seen as politically motivated—also threatened the committee’s independence.
As for Election Day, Anfrel said its observers saw few deviations from polling rules and attributed them mostly to poor training.
It said reports that hundreds of soldiers were trucked to some communes to vote where they neither lived nor worked needed “further verification.”
Speaking after the news conference, Anfrel’s executive director, Ichal Supriadi, said fears that the soldiers were used to swing target communes the CPP’s way were still only “rumor” and conjecture.
“We have to know first from where they have been transferred, how many, and then we can develop the motive,” he said, adding that their efforts to investigate were being met with silence. “Nobody wants to talk with us. We feel that there’s a fear.”
On Election Day, rights group Licadho said observers in Siem Reap province saw hundreds of soldiers being brought to two communes, Ta Siem and Boeng Mealea, from outside.
Chhum Socheat, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, has declined to comment by telephone and asked for questions by text message, which he was yet to answer.
During last year’s voter registration drive, the NEC admitted that soldiers were mistakenly allowed to register in some communes but refused to do anything about it.
However, Mr. Puthea on Tuesday conceded that some of the poll workers were ill-trained.
“No one is perfect,” he said. “There must have been some staff who did not understand well, but only a few.”
He said many of the complaints about pre-election conditions were beyond the NEC’s mandate, but added the committee might consider the need to expand its jurisdiction later.
sokhean@cambodiadaily.com
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