Cambodia’s National Election Committee yesterday concluded that its indelible ink – whose indelibility was called into question earlier this month when samples were reportedly washed off – is acceptable for use in the upcoming June 4 commune elections after publicly testing it on 16 people.
The individuals dipping their digits into the ink produced by an India-based company included EU Ambassador George Edgar, Cambodia National Rescue Party official Morn Phalla, civil society members and journalists.
Volunteers waited about 10 minutes before attempting to clean their fingers with a cosmetic product from Thailand. On some individuals, the ink appeared to be partially removed, while on others it was almost completely gone. Minutes later, however, the dipped area had turned a slightly darker shade.
Hoeu Rong, an adviser to the NEC who read the conclusion, insisted the darker shade wouldn’t wash off. “I would report that nothing wrong happened with the test right now,” he said.
Earlier this month, an NEC official told the Cambodia Daily that it tested samples of the ink and found it could be washed off with hair care products. Since then, the committee has received a shipment of 46,500 bottles of ink at a cost of $790,000 from Mysore Paints & Varnish Ltd.
Sik Bun Hok, head of the NEC, said although people may still be suspicious of the test results, the NEC will use the ink for the elections. He added that the NEC will also use five other identifying principles to prevent voter fraud.
“I think that those five preventive points are more important [than the ink], and I prioritise them,” he said. “People attempting to disguise will not dare take the risk.”
The measures include, among other things, cross-checking IDs against the newly reformed voter list at polling stations. There is a fine of 5 million to 20 million riel (about $1,250 to $5,000) for those attempting to vote more than once.
NEC member and spokesman Hang Puthea said the NEC didn’t have lab results to see if the ink from the shipment had a 25 percent silver nitrate content, which makes it indelible.
“If we have results or we don’t have the results, it’s the same solution,” he said, adding that stakeholders decided the quality was good enough to use.
Hara Kumar, general manager at Mysore Paints & Varnish Ltd, declined to comment beyond saying the ink “cannot be washed off”.
Ambassador Edgar, who had to leave the testing event early due to other commitments, later said he welcomed the NEC’s “openness in arranging a public demonstration of the ink”.
“I tried the ink and have not been able to remove it,” he said yesterday evening. “I am confident that, taken together, the measures planned by the NEC should provide a robust safeguard against multiple voting.”
The CNRP’s Phalla, however, said he still had concerns over the quality of the ink but had confidence in the other NEC measures. “I hope that the five principles will help ensure no one can vote more than once and [that] no one can cheat,” he said.
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan, meanwhile, said he was unconcerned about the ink, adding that the NEC had a “reliable voter list”.
Jay Raman, a spokesman with the US Embassy, did not directly address concerns over the ink but said the US believes that “an accurate and comprehensive voter list and a fair process for voter registration are two of the most critical aspects of electoral administration”.
“USAID recently supported a voter registration audit that determined that 2017 voter roll contained only minor issues and was a vast improvement from the previous election.”