The National Election Committee, acting on orders from the Constitutional Council, yesterday examined ballots and original documents taken from 13 polling stations in a Kratie province commune, but the opposition and observers quickly questioned the process’s validity due to apparent irregularities.
Despite the fact that “Safety Package A” – which contains original ballots and counting sheets from polling stations – was to remain sealed to prevent tampering, the Cambodia National Rescue Party and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights both said that several packages were either unsealed or inadequately sealed, an observation that the NEC did not contest.
The opposition also maintained that, while the result of the recount of the enclosed ballots from Kratie’s Svay Chrah commune was no different from the one previously released by the NEC for either of the two main parties, there was a discrepancy in the number of invalidated ballots.
Though the parties and the NEC did not reach a consensus on what that discrepancy means – that decision will be left to the Constitutional Council – both parties, along with Funcinpec and the NEC, signed a document agreeing that irregularities had taken place.
“The Constitutional Council has to resolve all of the complaints filed by the CNRP transparently, and it is not fair if the Constitutional Council rejects our complaint by claiming that the election irregularities will not affect the result,” opposition lawmaker Kuoy Bunrouen said, noting that the examination of the original documents was a positive step. “If they [NEC] committed fraud with the invalid votes, then it affects the CNRP’s invalid votes.”
Bunroeun went on to say that, by the CNRP’s count, there were about 100 invalidated ballots missing from the opened packages.
“The Constitutional Council has to find out the reason why that many invalid votes were lost and where they went,” he continued, adding that even if only a small percentage of ballots were improperly invalidated, it could have a huge impact, especially in hotly contested constituencies.
Kandal is perhaps the clearest example of such a case, with the CNRP maintaining that it was fewer than 170 votes shy of picking up an additional seat – a claim buttressed by an independent researcher’s analysis.
Constitutional Council spokesman Prom Nhean Vicheth, who observed the count at NEC headquarters, said that the council would resolve the remaining complaints transparently.
“We will consider [this] and will make an effort to resolve the problem no later than the scheduled announcement of the official election results by the NEC,” Vicheth said. “It is not about which political party will benefit or lose, but the most important thing here is to show transparency and make it clean.”
But Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak, who sent an observer to the proceedings, said that issues with the recount – including the fact that the vast majority of the 13 packages were improperly sealed – made the results far from certain.
“Some were not secured at all … some were not sealed properly,” he said, confirming that while the vote count for the main parties was indeed the same, “it was actually different in the number of votes voided, which would have affected the smaller parties”.
“The fact that the package was tampered [with], or not sealed properly, will give rise to more questions or accusations than answers,” he added.
However, Tep Nytha, secretary-general of the NEC, brushed off such concerns as a “technical problem” stemming from inadequately trained local staffers.
“We found that the mistake occurred from a technical problem, and did not affect the result of the election for any political party,” he said. “Nothing is secret after we opened the Safety Package A, and the result remained the same between the official form 1102, [form] 1108 and the vote-tallying paper.”
Nytha went on to say that the NEC would go ahead with the unveiling of official election results on September 8, as long as the Constitutional Council had rendered its final decisions.
But CCHR’s Virak questioned the ability of the council to render an impartial decision, and suggested that the decision to open Safety Package A in the Kratie stations was a “political decision” aimed at appeasing the opposition. The real battleground is yet to come, he said.
“I think the one that everyone is waiting for is actually Kandal,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE