The ruling Cambodian People’s Party “orchestrated” voter fraud during Sunday’s election, international research and advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
The group points to the false issuance of Identity Certificates for Elections (ICE), used by those who do not possess the required identification to vote, as well as multiple registrations of voters as evidence of malfeasance.
HRW has not issued a post-election statement on Cambodia since political violence broke out in 1998.
“Senior ruling party officials appear to have been involved in issuing fake election documents and fraudulently registering voters in multiple provinces,” Brad Adams, HRW Asia director, said.
With only one concrete example based on witness testimony for each claim, however, the group stopped short of saying its evidence proved widespread fraud throughout the country by the CPP.
“We’re worried that this is widespread and more investigation may well bear that out, but at this point everybody has to put their shoulders to the wheel and really dig into these issues,” Phil Robertson, the organisation’s deputy Asia director, told the Post.
Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, questioned how his party could have won the election by a sizeable majority if it was relying on electoral fraud.
“How could we have added more ballots to win? The CPP received more than three million votes and [the CNRP] received more than two million,” he said. “That NGO always listens and writes their reports from the opposition [perspective].... They have supported [the opposition] for a long time, not just now. We cannot accept Human Rights Watch reports.”
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith was more to the point.
“If we used fraud in the election, the CNRP would have won fewer seats,” he said.
HRW cites an anonymous CPP village chief who allegedly received direct instructions from party superiors, including a CPP central committee member, to issue ICEs in the names of registered voters who had either died or moved away from their local area.
A number of groups including HRW raised fears before the poll that the hundreds of thousands of ICEs issued could lead to so-called “ghost voters” defrauding the ballot box.
“Now, a CPP village chief has confirmed that this happened in his area,” Adams said.
The statement also alleges that senior civil servants, including Ngo Sovan, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice and a CPP candidate standing in Kandal, were registered to vote in multiple places.
Residents interviewed in Kandal’s Koki Thom district said they were threatened with arrest after complaining to election officials that Sovan and other CPP officials trying to vote there were not residents, HRW said.
Villagers also received death threats the following day from a group that reappeared in the village, the statement says.
Sovan, a former Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker who switched parties after the 2008 election, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to analysis of official National Election Committee data, he was registered to vote in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Svay Rieng provinces, the statement says.
Koul Panha, executive director at election watchdog Comfrel, said the statement touches on “”very specific” cases of fraud and that he was unable to say whether similar cases occurred on a systematic level.
“We lack some information about the details of ICEs.... We just learned of some specific cases, but we can’t see the picture of how big the problem was ... and how [widespread] its use was in the election.”
He did, however, confirm that multiple registrations were widely observed.
“We saw many [multiple] names, but we were not able to check whether they actually voted in many places. But we found many double or triple names of [government] officials [and] civil servants.”
HRW called for the international community to push for an independent investigation into election irregularities, a move that Prime Minister Hun Sen, after some three days of silence, welcomed yesterday.
“If Hun Sen endorses that, it would be great and we hope he would follow through with his pledge.... If he follows through on his word, it would be a positive [development] for Cambodia,” Robertson said.