Top Cambodian Court Wants Election Staff Punished for Ballot Foul-Up


2013.09.05
Cambodian police gear up for the opposition protest, Sept. 3, 2013.
RFA

Cambodia's top court has ordered staff of the government-appointed national election body to be punished for mishandling secured ballot records but dismissed opposition complaints of irregularities in the July 28 national polls.

The decision by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC) on Thursday came as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) planned mass weekend protests after the authorities rejected calls for an independent group to investigate the irregularities.

The court ordered the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC), which conducted the polls, to punish its staff for unsealing election security packages in Siem Reap province, according to a statement.

The CNRP has questioned preliminary results showing a victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) by citing suspected tampering of election records in at least three provinces.   

“The NEC must be responsible before the law [and has to take action] against NEC officials at seven polling stations who were careless in doing their election work,” the court statement said, without elaborating on the form of punishment.

But the Constitutional Council dismissed CNRP’s complaint questioning the accuracy of the preliminary election result in Siem Reap province based on the ballot mishandling.

Verdict questioned

CNRP lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth protested the court's verdict, saying it is "unacceptable" that the election results are endorsed despite ballot security packages being found tampered with in six of 12 polling stations in Siem Reap province.

She also said that the court should mete out the punishment to the NEC staff directly instead of asking the election body to take such action.

Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), also criticized the Constitutional Council's ruling.

“CCHR doesn’t believe the CCC can independently resolve complaints with justice,” he said. "People will lose confidence in the CCC in the future."

Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) Director Hang Puthea also slammed the court, saying it has not judged the election complaints with transparency.

“CCC hasn’t fulfilled its job yet. CNRP has produced many complaints but CCC has reviewed only a few cases,” he said.

Following CNRP's complaints, secured ballot records from polling stations in the Kratie and Battambang provinces had also been found tampered with. NEC officials blamed the irregularities on poor training and educational levels of polling station staff.

Protest boost

CNRP chief Sam Rainsy meanwhile rallied supporters Thursday to participate in the mass protest in the capital Phnom Penh on Saturday.    

“The more supporters we have, the better result we will have," he said while visiting post-election violence-hit areas, Stung Meanchey market and Stung Meanchey pagoda, in the the outskirts of the capital.

Hundreds of angry mobs from the areas had on election day attacked military police officers and burned two trucks after they found their names missing from the electoral rolls.

The protest, which the opposition expects at least 20,000 people to attend, is set to take place a day before the expected announcement of official election results endorsing a victory for the ruling CPP.

Preliminary results from the NEC announced last month support the CPP’s claims that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55.

The CNRP claims it has won at least 63 seats and has accused the NEC of stealing votes from the opposition and giving them to the CPP.

Garlands

Meanwhile, members of Cambodia's Youth for Peace Movement planned to distribute on Friday 500 jasmine garlands and lotuses to police and military personnel who have been deployed in the capital ahead of the protest.

“We will sing and dance for peace ... we will give flowers to soldiers to remind them that any violence between Khmer and Khmer must be stopped,” group member Moung Sony said.

Cambodia’s Free Trade Union (FTU), one of the biggest unions in the country which threw its weight behind the CNRP, has urged its 100,000 supporters to not accept any overtime work in the run-up to the Saturday protest.

It said the workers have the right to decide whether to join the demonstration.

“This is a message that voters want justice,” FTU President Chea Mony said. “Workers want to have better living standards and dignity. To achieve these goals we can only rely on the CNRP,” he said.

The FTU represents workers in the garment industry, the country's biggest employer and key export earner.

In March, the CNRP proposed a minimum monthly wage of U.S. $150 for garment workers and U.S. $250 for civil servants.

Kem San, a factory worker, said he supported the FTU move. “Even though I will lose my benefit [by not working overtime] my living standards will be better in the future [by backing the CNRP].”  

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said security checks are being conducted along roads leading to the capital from the provinces but pointed out that they were not linked to the protest.

Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith told RFA that police would be at Freedom Park where the protest will be held to provide security and not to crack down on the demonstrators.

“We have already prepared a large number of forces but I can’t tell the exact number,” he said. “We are prepared to deal with any type of scenario."

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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