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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC investigates allegations of fraud

NEC investigates allegations of fraud

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SUSPICIOUS

Ballot boxes, literally falling out of their security bags, are unloaded late

July 27 at the Phnom Penh PEC.

AS EARLY results suggested that Hun Sen and the CPP were cruising toward almost certain

electoral victory, opposition parties were left scrambling in the wake of the July

26 polls to denounce the process and demand National Election Committee (NEC) investigations

into "serious irregularities and fraud".

The opposition barely beat a July 29 afternoon deadline to lodge thorough claims

of fraud, and NEC legal chief Tip Jahnvibol said July 30 that the election body was

actively investigating complaints from all parties - including the CPP - in at least

six provinces.

The two most serious complaints, the NEC member said, are opposition allegations

that commune election commissions (CECs) in Banteay Meanchey and Kampong Cham unexpectedly

halted ballot counting on July 27 and that CEC chiefs deliberately voided opposition

ballots in a number of provinces.

"[The opposition] reported an unexplained break of one or two hours in counting,"

Jahnvibol explained. "And when they came back the results had changed drastically

[in favor of the CPP]."

At Post press time, voided ballots were being carefully scrutinized by the NEC to

determine if there was any evidence that election personnel acted improperly. "We

are looking at the pen marks to see if the two ticks are any different," the

NEC member said.

The leaders of the two main opposition parties, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam

Rainsy, said July 28 they would refuse to recognize the result and were willing to

risk a constitutional crisis if the NEC did not conduct proper investigations of

their complaints.

"Not only will we not form any coalition government [if our demands are not

met], we will not even attend the meeting of the National Assembly, and they cannot

meet without us," Rainsy said.

Seven-tenths of 122 Assembly members must be present to convene parliament, and any

proposed government must have the approval of two-thirds of the Assembly.

At the time of Ranariddh and Rainsy's announcement, the NEC had only released the

results from nine communes, but unofficial numbers from Rainsy's party gave the CPP

52 seats, Funcinpec 42, and Rainsy 28.

CPP predictions of 67 seats for itself were on the public rumor mill by Monday and

circulating on paper in Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh.

"Like other parties, [our party agents] reported to us immediately after they

got the figures from the stations," said CPP central committee cabinet chief

Oum Mean, adding the party had complete faith in its figures.

The unexpected NEC delay in reporting - a throng of eager diplomats and journalists

was kept waiting for two hours on Monday only to hear there would be no results that

night - fueled conspiracy theories and worry.

The NEC lag time is due to the complicated counting process and investigations into

political parties' complaints, according to election officials.

But one high-ranking official in the NEC claimed that the CPP was widely distributing

its own inflated results while the NEC's preliminary results were being deliberately

held back by CPP-friendly election officials to put pressure on the opposition.

"Someone in there wants to control the information to suit their own needs,"

he said. "It is affecting negotiations and the formation of a coalition government."

The NEC source said result tallies being publicized by election watchdog COMFREL

were very close to the election body's own figures. His own prediction had the CPP

winning the election and claiming 59-61 Assembly seats.

Ranariddh's and Rainsy's challenge to the NEC gathered steam July 29 as representatives

from 15 political parties held a joint press conference to express their dissatisfaction

with the entire election process and demand an investigation of their concerns.

"We do not reject the results of the election since we don't know those results

yet, but what we are denouncing, what we are condemning, is the process," Rainsy

said.

Pou Sothirak, secretary-general of the Reastr Niyum party - which before elections

was seen as close to the CPP - noted "many irregularities... especially during

the counting of ballots. The published result at polling stations does not correspond

with Reastr Niyum numbers".

Despite the fact that the CPP has registered its own complaints to the NEC, Oum Mean

appealed to other parties to recognize whatever result is declared by the election

body.

"CPP hopes that all parties will respect the will of Cambodian people who trust

the CPP, and the effort made by the international community," he said.

But exactly what would satisfy Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party enough to join a

CPP-led government is still unclear, with opposition party leaders stressing their

demands are for a proper investigation, not necessarily an alteration of the results

or a re-vote in areas where fraud has been alleged.

"I don't want to talk about what results we want," Fun-cinpec Secretary-General

Tol Lah told the Post.

"We're asking for a proper counting of the ballots and that they follow the

rules."

After the initial July 27 commune-level count, ballots were sent from the CECs to

the provincial election commissions (PEC), where the results are rechecked before

verification statements are sent on to the NEC.

Some concerns have focused on what may have happened after the commune counts were

finished. In one incident witnessed by the Post, Phnom Penh observers were barred

from the capital's PEC on Monday night, although ballot boxes were still being moved

from CECs as late as midnight. Some of the boxes were clearly not sealed in their

security bags as they were carried into the PEC.

Additionally, the first voting numbers released by the NEC for Kampong Cham, which

showed CPP and Funcinpec neck and neck, did not match the PEC's first numbers, given

to the Post, which heavily favored Funcinpec.

Tol Lah said there was a disturbing pattern of results suddenly swinging in favor

of the CPP. "In the morning we were ahead, but in the afternoon it had switched,"

he said.

Statements from observer groups deemed the polling and counting days smooth and unmarred

by serious problems, although most also expressed reservations about the possible

effects of pre-election intimidation.

However, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) released a stinging report

July 30 that expressed "major concerns" including: CECs denying observers

and party agents access to ballot counting and final commune-level results; an absence

of observers at some polling stations; village chiefs acting as CPP party agents;

houses of village chiefs being used as polling stations; unsealed ballot boxes; invalidation

of opposition supporters' ballots; and threats and intimidation against voters and

opposition activists.

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