Cambodian authorities investigating voters who spoiled their ballot

Police say they’re targeting 44 people believed to have incited people to vandalize ballots in protest.
By RFA Khmer
2023.07.25
Cambodian authorities investigating voters who spoiled their ballot Cambodian election officials count ballots at a polling station in Phnom Penh on July 23, 2023.
Credit: Tang ChhinSothy/AFP

Police in Cambodia were moving forward with investigations into opposition activists who destroyed their ballots to protest the exclusion of the Candlelight Party from Sunday’s parliamentary election.

Authorities in Banteay Meanchey province near the Thai border sent local Candlelight Party official Chao Veasna to provincial prison for pre-trial detention on Tuesday after he posted a photo of his spoiled ballot on social media, according to his daughter.

Six other people were detained by authorities on Sunday in similar cases, questioned and released. Police have threatened to take legal action against anyone who continues to post messages on the spoiled ballots.

Authorities told Radio Free Asia that they were targeting 44 people who allegedly incited people to vandalize the ballots under exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s order.

Prime Minister Hun Sen posted a voice message on Sunday demanding that opposition activists who posted photos of spoiled ballots publicly apologize. 

“We recognize all of the faces of those who are in the country,” he said. “But I ask that you don’t need to be afraid. You can come forward to confess to the authorities and to the National Election Committee. Otherwise, legal action will be taken against you.”  

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Chao Veasna, a former Poipet commune chief elected by CNRP, is seen after his release from Tbong Khmum provincial prison in 2022. Credit: Provided by Chao Veasna

Photos of dozens of spoiled ballots were posted on Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page on Sunday. 

Candlelight Party activist Phorn Phanna, who lives in Thailand, told RFA that posting photos of ballots is a citizen’s right. The protests show that people are unsatisfied with Hun Sen’s election, he said.

“I have made no mistake. I just used my right as a citizen to express my discontent over the fake election,” he said. “I have the right to appeal to people to spoil the ballots to make the Hun Sen regime badly embarrassed.”

‘The expression of the people’

Sok Ey San, the spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, estimated that the number of spoiled ballots across the country was between 200,000 and 300,000.

Exiled opposition leader Mu Sochua told RFA on Tuesday that the number could be more than 400,000. 

Mu Sochua is the vice president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had been the country’s main opposition party until late 2017 when the Supreme Court dissolved it after it made substantial gains in local communal elections.

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Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen raises a ballot before voting on July 23, 2023. Credit: Heng Sinith/AP

There were reports of spoiled ballots by CNRP supporters in the last parliamentary election in 2018.

The Candlelight Party, which includes many of the same supporters as the CNRP, was disqualified from this year’s election in May by the NEC, which cited inadequate paperwork.

“The CNRP thanks the people who went to the polls and spoiled the ballots, and in some locations wrote out their messages,” Mu Sochua said. “This is the will – this is the expression of the people who are the voters.”

A Siem Reap resident told RFA on condition of anonymity that she was forced to go to polls by local authorities. She said she wrote on her ballot to express her pain as a Cambodian citizen – not because of anything Sam Rainsy said.

“I was like other people who find no party that they love,” she said. “So they crossed out the ballot because they trust no other party except the opposition Candlelight Party.”

Sok Ey San said the 400,000 number cited by Mu Sochua probably includes some ballots that didn’t come from opposition protesters. 

“A number of invalid ballots were incorrectly ticked or marked by senior people, or by poor eye-sight people, or by some uneducated people,” he said.

Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed.

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