Cambodia NGOs Slam Polls as Final Complaints are Thrown Out

2013-09-06
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cambodia-demo-flowers-sept-2013.jpg
Lotus flowers offered to riot police in Phnom Penh as a peace gesture lie on the ground after police rejected them, Sept. 6, 2013.
RFA

A group of local poll monitors on Friday declared Cambodia’s national elections neither free nor fair as the country’s top court threw out all opposition complaints of ballot irregularities.

The coalition of 40 civil society organizations which assessed the July 28 vote made the conclusion ahead of a mass protest Saturday by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) a day before the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC) announces final results.

The monitors recommended an overhaul of the NEC, which manages the country’s polls, and of the Constitutional Council, which has rejected challenges against the NEC’s preliminary results that gave a win to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

They judged the administration of the polls as “not yet free and not yet fair” and having less “integrity” than those in past years despite a decrease in serious election-related violence.

“Previous elections organized by the NEC were deemed to be below the international standards of free and fair elections, but in this election key problems had not been properly addressed and affected the process and administration of the election,” their statement said.

The groups, which include the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec), also called for reforming the mechanisms for election conflict resolution and poll irregularity investigations.

Review completed

The Constitutional Council, the final arbiter of election complaints, brought its 17-day review of the hotly-contested polls to a close on Friday, ruling against all 14 of the 15 CNRP complaints it accepted.

The complaints had challenged preliminary vote counts announced last month by the NEC that support the CPP’s claims that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55. The council’s dismissal paves the way for the NEC to ratify those results on Sunday.

“The Constitutional Council has the honor to inform the public that the Council has completely examined and decided on all disputes involved with the fifth mandate election in 2013 as of the evening of Friday, Sept. 6,” a statement by the court said.

The court also rejected a complaint on irregularities in Kandal province during a hearing that CNRP representatives walked out on in frustration.  

“The Constitutional Council … has failed to provide CNRP justice,” CNRP representative Eng Chhay Eang told RFA’s Khmer Service on leaving the hearing.

The CNRP claims it won at least 63 seats and has had a wider victory snatched away by widespread irregularities.

Protest preparations

CNRP supporters are set to protest against the election Saturday morning in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in a demonstration that has been planned for weeks.

As supporters made final preparations, CNRP senior leader Mu Sochua told a press conference that the party was “ready” for the demonstration and that it expects at least 20,000 people to join.

The demonstration is scheduled to last from 7:00 a.m. to noon, but may go on longer if demonstrators choose, she said.  

On Thursday, the Ministry of the Interior granted the CNRP permission to hold the demonstration on the condition that the number of protesters does not exceed 10,000 and the protesters do not march or camp out in the park.

CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said the party cannot limit the number of protesters or the duration of the demonstration and that it had taken measures to prevent protesters from getting out of hand or provoking any violence.

“Having a demonstration means that the public will express their views; it doesn’t mean the CNRP can order them [to join or not],” he said in an RFA interview.

The party has established a code of conduct for those taking part in the protest, he said, adding that no violence had broken out when tens of thousands of supporters thronged the city’s streets to welcome CNRP President Sam Rainsy on his return to the country from exile a week before voting day.

The government has warned that police will retaliate and demonstration leaders will be held responsible before the law if the protest turns violent or threatens security.

Travel restrictions

Kem Sokha urged authorities not to bar supporters from traveling to Phnom Penh for the demonstration.

A group of would-be demonstrators from Takeo province said Friday they have been barred from joining the demonstration.

They plan to pray for justice at local pagodas instead, they said.

The travel restrictions reported in Takeo come after Svay Rieng police on Tuesday stopped a group of about 100 villagers traveling to a religious meeting in Sihanoukville province in what members of the group suspected was part of government measures to prevent opposition supporters from traveling to Phnom Penh.

Police spurn flower offerings

cambodia-demo-flowers-sept-2013-400.jpg
Young people lay lotus flowers at the feet of riot police stationed in Phnom Penh, Sept. 6, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
The government has deployed additional military forces, tanks, and armored personnel carriers in the capital city since polling day.

Riot police stationed downtown ahead of the demonstration who were offered bunches of lotus flowers by a group of youths on Friday spurned the peace gesture, refusing to accept the flowers.

Instead, the group of some 60 young people placed the flowers at the feet of the soldiers, who were equipped with riot gear and stationed in front of the Ministry of Defense and the Prime Minister’s office.

“I am disappointed and hurt that they refused to accept them,” student Roth Chandany said after police rejected the flowers.

“We wanted to give them the flowers because we want peace. We want to show them that we like them for protecting our land,” she said.

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