Despite the fact that the Cambodia National Rescue Party has refused to accept the results of the Kingdom’s national elections, civil society officials at no fewer than three press conferences yesterday were unable to offer concrete figures on the impact of irregularities on the legitimacy of Sunday’s vote.
Though Transparency International yesterday released a detailed report on the results of its observation mission, it took pains to make clear that its findings did not conclusively demonstrate that irregularities had swayed the vote one way or the other.
Meanwhile, election watchdog Comfrel held two press conferences of its own at which figures from many of Cambodia’s best-known civil society organisations highlighted reports of problems at the polls, but nonetheless said it had no figures to date on how many people had allegedly been disenfranchised.
Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project and a Comfrel board member, called for a thorough examination of the NEC’s management to determine where breakdowns occurred, but offered no data on such breakdowns.
Panel member and Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak brought numbers into the conversation, but like TI, stopped short of saying irregularities had definitively invalidated the election.
“The CPP won by 200,000 [votes] over the CNRP,” he said. “So if there were no irregularities, this might have been different.”
Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability coordinator Him Yun accused the NEC of taking down its online voter list in an attempt to prevent young people from finding their polling places, but also noted that mobs of youth had blocked “strange” people from voting in their polling stations.
“I think because the voters lacked confidence in the election monitor, they prevented suspicious or strange people from voting,” he said, noting that civil society could be doing more to “correct” youth activists through education. “Start from the beginning, don’t wait until the end.”
Irregularities in Sunday’s vote certainly did occur. Violence broke out at multiple polling places; the so-called indelible ink intended to prevent voters from returning to the ballot box was demonstrated to be easily removable; and at least one voter freely admitted to the Post that he had cast two ballots.
However, figures regarding the scale of such irregularities were in short supply.
“The outcome [of Sunday’s elections] does not necessarily reflect the will of Cambodian voters,” said TI Cambodia executive director Preap Kol, speaking at the release of his organisation’s report.
According to the report, taking into account the margin of error, the difference in the popular vote between the Cambodian People’s Party and the CNRP could be as little as 0.6 per cent.
“The concern is that all these irregularities could affect the result of the election in the fifth mandate,” he continued.
However, he later reiterated, “it may, or it may not”.
“That is why we called for an independent investigation to determine the size of these irregularities,” he added.
According to TI’s report, incidents were indeed widespread. Observers found that in 60 per cent of polling stations, voters with valid identification were left off of the voter list, and that, conversely, people were allowed to vote without proper ID in 26 per cent of polling stations.
The report also called attention to the “problematic” issuance of nearly 500,000 temporary IDs used across 93 per cent of stations.
But given that observers issued their results in the form of ranges, a specific number of irregularities was unavailable, said Laura Thornton, director of the National Democratic Institute, which provided financial and technical assistance to TIC’s observation mission.
“That’s why I don’t think you can say that it did [change the balance of the vote],” Thornton said, seconding Kol’s assessment. “It may have, it may not have. We don’t make assumptions about who the disenfranchised voters would have voted for.”
Compared with a similar observation mission in 2008, she added, documented irregularities in this election were way up.
“We saw disenfranchisement in 2008, but that was in a quarter of polling stations, if I remember correctly,” she said.
Comfrel’s Koul Panha said his organisation wouldn’t have a concrete figure for disenfranchised voters until “maybe around next month”, but mentioned a possible explanation for the rise in complaints.
“They were really enthusiastic to complain,” he said, adding that in 2008, this had not been the case. “They would come to people and say, ‘I can’t find my name.’ They really wanted to complain.”
“Unfortunately, there was no stack of Form 1202 [for filing complaints] at the polling stations,” he continued. “I think many organisations would say, ‘Yes people were turned away, but we want to know about the complaints’ ... but unfortunately it did not work like that.”