The National Election Committee (NEC) ruled yesterday that Svay Rieng’s Doung commune would be awarded to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on a slim margin of two votes after a highly contentious recount on Monday saw both major parties contesting the validity of multiple ballots.
After a full recount, the NEC said the results now stood at 2,611 votes to the CPP and 2,609 to the CNRP, handing the commune that was initially won by the opposition to the ruling party. The body said it deliberated on 141 invalid ballots, 66 of which were “controversial”, before releasing the final results.
“The NEC announced that CPP leads by two votes. It’s a final decision from the NEC,” said Y Muy Ly, CNRP official for Svay Rieng.
The NEC’s preliminary results had the CNRP with a narrow 2,599-to-2,596 lead over the ruling party, but an assessment of the invalid ballots by provincial election officials changed the count to 2,602 to 2,601 in the CPP’s favour.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said that the NEC had in total received 40 recount requests but that only a few, such as Doung, had qualified for a recount.
Though the NEC has now declared the CPP the winner in the commune, the CNRP has already filed a complaint against the director of Svay Rieng’s Provincial Election Committee, Em Soth, for standing too close to election officials and “putting pressure” on them to follow his lead in assessing ballots.
Muy Ly, the CNRP official, said the NEC’s decision was unacceptable in light of Soth’s conduct during the provincial recount on June 9.
“Valid ballots were not kept in a safe box, instead they were in Em Soth’s room,” he said.
For his part, Soth dismissed the complaint as the gripe of the losing team and instead accused CNRP officials of misbehaving at the June 8 recount. “I also have video clip of CNRP officials instructing election officials to do like this and that,” he said.
The NEC is scheduled to begin recounts for Battambang’s Boeung Pram commune and Kampong Thom’s Kleng commune today.
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) weighed in on the June 4 ballot, saying it was “neither fair nor free” and took place in a threatening environment hostile to free speech and genuine political participation.
The rights group highlighted the jailing of CNRP members and flagged violent rhetoric of civil war before the elections, as well as Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak’s pre-election threats to civil society to prevent them from monitoring the election, as evidence of the hostile electoral environment.
“Under no standards anywhere can an election be deemed free or fair where these kinds of problems exist,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.