Cambodian Opposition: Army Soldiers Deployed to Manipulate Vote

2016-09-15
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A Cambodian man scans his finger during voter registration at a commune in Kandal province, Sept. 1, 2016.
A Cambodian man scans his finger during voter registration at a commune in Kandal province, Sept. 1, 2016.
AFP

In a country dogged by accusations of voter fraud, opposition party officials tell RFA’s Khmer Service that Cambodian military personnel are being transferred into districts to register to vote where they are not residents.

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials told RFA that they have filed five different complaints with the National Election Commission (NEC) regarding voter-registration irregularities, including attempts to register soldiers in districts where they are ineligible.

Sok Kimseng, the deputy head of the CNRP’s Siem Reap province executive committee, told RFA that the party’s observers have reported that there have been irregularities in a number of communes in Varin and Banteay Srei districts.

“Those armed forces do not live in these districts,” he told RFA. “In some cases, they did not even come in person to have their residential ID issued, but in some communes the local authorities have issued them the IDs anyway.”

In the Kulen district, the commune chief for the Sam Rainsy Party, Pen Laam, told RFA that he refused to issue the residential IDs to the armed forces of two battalions who were transported by the 41st Brigade to the commune. A battalion typically consists of 300-600 soldiers.

Pen Laam said the Kulen district authorities and the army commander there threatened him when he refused to issue the IDs to the soldiers, but he didn’t give in because he said he knows they have never lived in the commune.

“Some of them, are based in the Preah Vihear [Temple] and some in Rungroeung commune near Cambodian-Thai-Lao border,” he said.

In the Cheb district of Preah Vihear province, a commune chief there also refused to issue residential IDs to many armed forces personnel last week.

National Election Committee (NEC) spokesperson Hang Puthea told RFA that voters have to reside in the commune where they register.

If soldiers are transported from other places to register in a commune where they have never lived, then it raises concerns.

“It is possible that there is another issue that we should consider,” he said. “Maybe there is a plan to move those [soldiers] based on the border to a station in the area where there will be a voter registration office in the future.”

An official with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) told RFA that a soldier who is stationed or works in any commune should consider that place as his residence and register in that commune.

“I just heard during National Election Commission (NEC) meeting yesterday about a plan to use some armed forces as security guards in the election,” he said. “That may be why soldiers have been transported to register in different communes, but I have not seen any NEC [written] principles on this issue.”

Cambodians are using a new digital voter registration system that is designed to combat voter fraud.

Elections in 2013 were dogged by accusations of fraud, and the new system is part of a 2014 election reform deal between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition CNRP that ended almost a year of deadlock following the disputed 2013 national ballot.

Rights groups and foreign aid donors, including the European Union, have expressed concern about the election registration process which is unfolding amid rising political tensions in Cambodia.

In particular, NEC Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakriya is in police custody, one of five people arrested by the government in its wide-ranging probe into an alleged affair opposition CNRP acting leader Kem Sokha had with a young hairdresser.

Reported by Savyouth Hang. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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