Cambodian Opposition Wants Election Probe Before Talks With CPP

2013-08-01
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cambodia-election-sam-rainsy-july-2013.jpg
Sam Rainsy (center) greets people in Phnom Penh on Election Day, July 28, 2013.
RFA

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy insisted Thursday that investigations into election fraud allegations must be held with U.N. participation before his party holds any political negotiations with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party.

Sam Rainsy said an independent probe into widespread poll irregularities is critical to breaking the political stalemate after Sunday’s election which has led to both his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) claiming victory.

Hun Sen earlier this week agreed to a local probe led by the National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the ballot, but rejected any inclusion of the United Nations or other foreign parties in any resolution of post-election disagreements, saying disputes should be resolved “between Khmer and Khmer.”

Sam Rainsy maintained that any panel investigating the irregularities, including charges that more than one million names had been removed from the voters’ list, must have members from the United Nations, civil society groups, and political parties including his CNRP.

“We must seek solutions to resolve the irregularities to provide justice for voters whose names were deleted or faked, or those who were unable to vote [due to irregularities],” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. 

Disputed seats

On election night, the CPP claimed it won 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, or parliament, and the NEC has virtually endorsed the CPP findings although it has not yet announced the official results.

But the CNRP, which claims that it had victory snatched away due to ballot irregularities, said it won 63 seats, enough to form a government with a simple majority.

Although Hun Sen indicated Wednesday that the NEC had agreed to investigate complaints of voter list tampering and other election irregularities, it is not certain what the body will conduct the probe.

“I have received unofficial information that the NEC will resolve the complaints with the participation of the political parties and nongovernmental organizations,” Hun Sen said in his first public speech after the elections.

“If this information is true … I think this is a positive development. This is a transparent way to allow resolution of the remaining issues according to the law.”

NEC

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said Thursday that the NEC would allow political parties to monitor post-election verification of ballot counts.

He also said the NEC would not be able to participate in any investigations outside its jurisdiction.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan reiterated the NEC chief’s remarks Thursday.

“The NEC will use the existing mechanisms to resolve the irregularities,” he said, adding that ground level NEC staff would verify the election results across the country from Aug. 2 to 6. The NEC will later review the verification process, he said.

The NEC said on its website that it would be able to announce the official election results by Aug. 10.

Even with all 68 seats that it claims, the CPP will lack a quorum to open a new session of the National Assembly, which holds the key to endorsing any new government.

Political 'compromise'

Phay Siphan also said that the CPP is ready to meet with the CNRP to discuss matters pertaining to the convening of the National Assembly and sharing of responsibilities in the new parliament.

As the “winning party,” the CPP “is willing to compromise over positions in the National Assembly,” he said without elaborating.

Also on Thursday, Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry warned foreign diplomats not to interfere in the country’s politics by supporting the opposition.

The U.S. and EU have expressed concerns over allegations of electoral irregularities, but called on Cambodia to resolve them internally.

International rights groups have said the voting irregularities as well as the exclusion of Sam Riansy from the polls have raised questions over the fairness of the polls.

Sam Rainsy was barred by the NEC from running or voting in the polls despite receiving a royal pardon for politicized criminal charges that got him an 11-year jail sentence and had kept him in self-imposed exile in France.

The pardon came about two weeks before the July 28 election and the NEC said it was too late for him to register as a voter and to contest in the polls. Sam Rainsy’s appeals were rejected.

Still, his presence in Cambodia about two weeks before the polls galvanized the opposition and helped improve their performance.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.