Cambodian Poll Called Flawed

Cambodia's ruling party claims an election victory, but the opposition says voting was rigged.
2008-07-29
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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: European Union election monitor Martin Callanan speaks with reporters July 29 about Cambodia’s national elections.
Photo: AFP

PHNOM PENH—International monitors charge that Cambodia’s national election, in which Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party won nearly 60 percent, failed to meet critical standards for transparency.

In a preliminary report, some 130 European Union monitors said voting was marred by the overwhelming control of the media by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and by the absence of some 50,000 voters’ names from registration lists.

“While the campaign was generally conducted in a more peaceful and open environment compared to previous elections, the 2008 National Assembly Elections have fallen short of a number of key international standards for democratic elections,” Martin Callanan, who led the EU observers, said.

Some 50,000 voters were left off rolls, but Callanan said that wouldn’t have played a major role in the outcome, given the size of the CPP’s victory margin.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the Cambodian people to accept or reject the results,” Callanan said, adding that the EU would issue a more detailed report with recommendations in October.

Opposition complaint

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called for new elections, citing numerous voters whose names failed to appear on voter lists. “It’s too many to be tolerated,” he said.

“The election must be reorganized and those whose names were missing must be included on the voting list,” Sam Rainsy said. “This is to grant equal rights to all Cambodians in the principles of democracy. This wasn’t a democratic election at all.”

Sam Rainsy estimated that 1 million out of 8.1 million registered voters had been removed from the voter rolls. He said members of his party witnessed 50 to 100 people at each of the country’s 15,000 polling stations who were barred from voting.

On July 30, some 400 people staged a protest outside the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters in Phnom Penh.

The Asian Network For Free Elections (ANFREL) called for an investigation and “a serious penalty” for vote-rigging. “The election was maybe free, but not fair at all,” said Somsri Hananuntasuk, head of ANFREL’s election monitoring mission to Cambodia.

Fraud alleged

Cambodia’s four opposition parties rejected the outcome and accused the ruling party of fraud. In a joint statement Monday, four small parties said Hun Sen’s party won through “illegal and fraudulent practices.”

They cited the National Election Committee’s alleged removal of tens of thousands of legitimate voters from electoral lists to prevent them from casting ballots for other parties. They also accused it of acting as “a tool for the CPP to organize a sham election and present a facade of democracy.”

Khieu Kanharith, the spokesman of the ruling party, dismissed the allegations of fraud.

Less violence

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted lower violence from previous elections but said it had observed “threats, intimidation, and inducements directed against political activists” to get them to change parties.

Hun Sen, now 55, has ruled Cambodia for 23 years and has vowed to remain in power until he is 90.

The election Sunday was the fourth parliamentary election since the United Nations brokered a peace deal for the country in 1991, a process meant to end decades of civil unrest that included the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime.

Missing voters

“I didn’t know what to do… I went and looked for my name [everywhere] to no avail. I wanted to vote, but I tried my best and still couldn’t see my name,” one woman who identified herself as Vann Nob said.

Election observers who spent the day at several polling stations in Kampong Speu province, 40 kms west of Phnom Penh, said they witnessed no violence but cited numerous missing names.

“At every polling station we visited, there were 60 to 70 people who came complaining [that] their names [were missing],” Ouch Bo, leaders of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) observer team, said.

COMFREL observers covered 1,170 polling stations across the country. “Now, we count the stations… at 12 stations, at least 50-60 people said their names were missing—so that’s almost 1,000 people. But this was what I calculated only in the Treng Trayoeung commune.”

“At another station, polling station number 0366 in a commune called Maha Saing, people came and brought their complaints to me that more than 100 people in Ka-ek Porng village didn’t have their names on the voting list,” Ouch Bo said.

One woman who lives in Phnom Penh said that only five of her family members who should have been able to vote were listed on the election rolls.

“During the registration period, we saw our names at the commune office. But then why were they missing on polling day?” she said. “Does it mean that the National Election Committee has two different voting lists?”

Kampot province

People in Trapaing Bey village, Taken commune, Chhouk district, Kampot province, cited numerous irregularities on polling day.

“I wanted to vote, but my name was ticked and voted by someone else. I wasn’t even finger-printed,” one man, who identified himself as Em Phann, said.

A woman named Sam Onn said her vote, too, had already been cast by someone else by the time she reached the polling both.

“I went with my baby even though it was raining. I wanted to vote. When I got into the polling station, the secretary checked the voting list and told me that the name ‘Sam Onn’ had already been marked and the person had voted,” she said.

“They dismissed me from the polling station, though I told them that I had not yet cast my vote. I had just entered the polling station, so how come they said I had already voted?”

COMFREL coordinator Try Chhuon cited numerous problems. “A lot of people’s names weren't found on the voting list. There were also cases of people who came and voted using the names of people who have already died,” she said.

“We also observed the activities of the authorities and the parties’ working groups in front of the polling stations, and they communicated constantly via walkie-talkie,” she added.

Original reporting by Um Sarin, Uon Chhin, Chea Makara, and Kim Peuo Sotan for RFA’s Khmer service. Service director: Sos Kem. Translated by Yanni Hin. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Edited in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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