As wrangling over Sunday’s election results continues apace, the opposition has sought to highlight the findings of independent observers who manned the polling stations on Election Day, diligently recording and reporting back a raft of irregularities.
Observers from all parties were stationed at the polls, but it was the independent watchdog results that have had the most sway. Mixed in among the thousands of Cambodian workers, meanwhile, were a handful of foreign volunteers who – armed with a single three-hour crash course – set out to observe an election that monitors warned would be the least fair yet.
Last week, 16 individuals from a broad spectrum of backgrounds ranging from US ex-military to legal interns, took a course on Cambodian politics before dispersing to polling booths in Phnom Penh on Sunday as Nicfec monitors.
Two three-hour-long trainings were given on Wednesday and Saturday by anti-gender discrimination NGO CEDAW and local rights group Licadho.
Volunteers were instructed to record factual and unbiased information on the voter registration process, use of appropriate identification and party activity around polling stations.
Critical incident forms used to report incidences of fraud or intimidation at each polling station visited were also distributed amongst volunteers. Further supplies included voting irregularity report forms and a picture booklet of annotated Cambodian IDs.
Marcos Smith, 47 – a veteran of impartial election observing, gleaned by working as an official observer for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in countries like Albania and the Ukraine – said he saw few blatant irregularities but did notice doors left open or exposed to the public during the ballot-tallying process at two different polling stations.
Returning to Cambodia a year and a half ago with his wife, a Cambodian national, Smith was initially resistant to observing Sunday’s elections after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s highly contested win in 2003.
“I was afraid nothing would change until two weeks ago, when my wife showed me all of the conversations happening on Facebook and other social media sites.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has sought to limit the role of neutral election monitors by making Cambodian law the benchmark for observers’ evaluations. Indeed, this election saw the fewest ever number of international observers – just 41 – after the government failed to extend invitations to a number of nations, while others said the number of irregularities would keep them away.
Francisca Gilmore, 22, an American interning for the Asian International Justice Initiative, described the role of observer as exciting and intense.
“It also became overwhelming with so many voters approaching us because they were stopped from voting – names were listed twice or weird discrepancies with their IDs,” Gilmore said.
After witnessing multiple instances of poll irregularities at three different polling stations, Gilmore’s assessment of the proceedings were far from glowing.
“This election was neither free nor fair,” she said.