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A woman in Kampong Cham province casts her vote during the 2012 commune elections.
A woman in Kampong Cham province casts her vote during the 2012 commune elections. Pha Lina

Vote-buying, coercion recalled

With the 2017 commune elections fast approaching, a new report, released yesterday, catalogues hundreds of complaints of intimidation, coercion and bribery against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party stemming from the last time Cambodians went to the local polls in 2012.

The study, put together by the NGO Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT), drew from the experiences of 701 respondents, many of whom reported irregularities that appear to violate Cambodian election laws.

One respondent, for example, claimed families with newborn babies could receive $25 to $50 from local authorities, as long as they voted for the ruling party.

Another said that fishermen caught illegally fishing in his Siem Reap village were let off with a warning, but only after swearing an oath to vote for CPP.

“I swear anything can happen to me, I have to vote for the ruling party, if I do not do so, may I sink my boat in the river or die by traffic accident,” the oath went, according to the respondent.

The report also contains a statistical breakdown detailing challenges voters faced in casting their ballots, with 288 reporting “instructions to vote for political parties” as a challenge. About 191 respondents claimed that “violence near election polling” was a challenge during the elections.

The ACT also went on to accuse the National Election Committee (NEC) of handling the complaints “poorly”.

Hang Puthea, a spokesman for NEC, declined to comment, saying he was too busy responding to the many complaints the CNRP had filed about the recently updated voter lists.

Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel, said that the behaviours described in the report were a “violation of Election Law”, and called on the NEC to take action if similar transgressions occur this year.

“They cannot intimidate people, and they can be punished,” Panha said.

Sam Kuntheami, executive director of another election-monitoring group, Nicfec, attended a meeting hosted by ACT about the study on Sunday.

“In the report, they found intimidation and threats committed by local authorities during the last election,” Kuntheami said, claiming responsible authorities faced no consequences, because the government and courts did not press the issue.

Kuntheami said he expects similar problems in this year’s election, and urged that the NEC “must take action now”.

Meanwhile, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said he was aware of CPP’s alleged illegal activity in 2012, and maintained that it continues today.

“Already we’ve had political difficulties and pressure on CNRP My president is in exile, our lawmakers are in jail,” he said yesterday

However, Sovann’s CPP counterpart, Sok Eysan, roundly denied the accusations, demanding evidence from ACT and accusing the organisation of bias.

“Show the evidence. If they cannot find the evidence, be careful,” Eysan warned. “There are still six months to go before the election.

Now it brings up old problems to damage the popularity of the CPP ... This is called political bias of the organisation.”

Additional reporting by Mech Dara.

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