While yesterday’s commune elections went more smoothly than past iterations, they were not free from claims of irregularities, with opposition activists bearing the brunt of the legal punishments.
Despite the relative calm, Koul Panha, the director of election watchdog Comfrel, said observers had found some irregularities.
“In Loeuk Dek [in Kandal province], our 12 monitors had to abandon monitoring in two communes: Prek Tonloap and Prek Dach . . . If there is a serious problem in these two communes, we will request the NEC [National Election Committee] to investigate,” Panha said.
Anti-corruption group Transparency International Cambodia also reported that the election was generally peaceful but had some “noticeable irregularities”.
The group announced in a statement that “25% of the polling stations had unauthorized persons present”, explaining that village chiefs and police officers were sometimes illegally present in polling stations.
Three CNRP party members were also arrested in Ratanakkiri’s Trapaing Kraham district, including the commune’s first candidate Oum Dom Din.
“The three asked the election official to open the window so that they can watch the ballot counting from outside,” said the provincial CNRP chief, Rann Saloeun. The three men were not accredited observers, and were arrested for attempting to monitor the vote count.
Two opposition activists were also arrested in Tbong Khmum after arriving at a polling station with motorbikes with Vietnamese licence plates. Authorities claimed the men were attempting a “dirty trick” by staging a photograph in order to allege that non-citizens voted in their commune.
Pro-government news source Fresh News reported that another CNRP voter may be in hot water after allegedly entering a Battambang polling station with a fake ballot.
Meanwhile in a separate ballot-related transgression, a CNRP voter may be facing legal action after posting a picture of his filled-out ballot on Facebook.
In May, the NEC controversially called for complete neutrality on Facebook during the day of the election, saying even unaffiliated individuals posting in support of a party may be punished for “campaigning”.
“He tried to campaign but by the rules of the NEC he should not,” said NEC spokesman Hang Puthea, adding that it was also illegal to use a camera in the polling booth.
Perhaps most alarmingly, there were reports yesterday – seemingly corroborated by on-the-ground interviews by a Post reporter – of off-duty soldiers being trucked into certain communes in order to sway tight races in favour of the CPP.
Moeun Tola, the director of Central, said that for the most part the election went “smoothly, safely, and peacefully”.
Meanwhile, a trio of election monitors invited by the NEC itself claimed that the elections were free and fair, with no notable hiccups.
“We saw everything was fair,” said Viyay Jolly, with monitor ICAPP, which has been criticised for having made a similar assessment of the 2013 national elections despite widespread reports of problems.
The NEC said it only received one formal complaint, while 78 other complaints were filed to local authorities. Reporting by Andrew Nachemson, CHHAY Channyda, Leonie Kijewski, Mech Dara and Niem Chheng