Cambodia’s Top Court Says Key Election Records Open for Review


2013-08-22
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cambodia-ballots-aug-2013.jpg National Election Committee officers unload bags of ballots at the committee's offices in Phnom Penh, Aug. 3, 2013.
AFP

Cambodia’s election authorities may be ordered to check key voting data to investigate opposition claims of widespread election irregularities in recent national polls, the country’s highest court ruled Thursday.

The Constitutional Council also said that it could hold public hearings on the hotly-contested July 28 election that has resulted in a political deadlock and tensions in the capital.

The court made the statement as it reviewed complaints against preliminary results released by the National Election Committee (NEC) giving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) a victory.

The results have been challenged by the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) which claims massive election irregularities, including one million voters delisted from the electoral rolls.

Security packages

The Constitutional Council said in a statement that it could call for sealed packages containing original tally sheets collected from polling stations on election day to be opened, in order to allow results returned later in the vote-counting process to be checked against the primary data.

The NEC has rejected complaints by the CNRP and said it would not open the security packages without solid evidence of serious irregularities.

The Constitutional Council, which is the final arbiter of the contested election results, said that based on the Election Law, it “can order the NEC to open security packages in order to verify votes,” according to the statement.  

The CNRP has called for U.N.-backed investigation into irregularities and a full investigation into voting data, saying the CPP and NEC colluded to deny votes for the CNRP.

Ensuring safety

CNRP President Sam Rainsy called on the NEC ensure that Security Package A, which contains original documents from election day including voided ballots, is kept safe in case it needs to be checked.

“Please take measures to keep the package in a safe place in order to avoid any changes to the original documents,” he said in a letter to NEC President Im Sousdey.

“The package is evidence that can be used to verify the election results and could affect the election results and the sharing of National Assembly Seats,” he said.

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said the packages are well guarded.

“This is the NEC’s job and we have taken good care of those packages,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

Review of complaints

Preliminary results by the NEC support the CPP claim that it had won 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, against 55 for the CNRP. The CNRP maintains it won at least 63 seats.

The Constitutional Council, which began reviewing complaints on Monday, said Thursday that it has already addressed 24 out of 39 complaints it received in total, including complaints about voter rolls and violations of campaign rules.

The 15 remaining complaints it is examining now are related to the preliminary results, the court’s statement said.

Public hearings

“The Constitutional Council may have public hearings in the future,” the statement said following criticism this week that hearings so far have been closed to reporters.

The CNRP and election watchdog groups have called for greater transparency on the review proceedings at the court.

Tensions remain high amid the election dispute with Sam Rainsy warning of mass protests against the NEC’s handling of the poll results and the government responding with an increased military presence in the capital.

Sam Rainsy has called for his supporters to rally in Phnom Penh on Monday.

Authorities have deployed troops, tanks, and armored vehicles in the capital, prompting concerns about a possibly violent showdown

Demonstrators have held peace marches in the city calling for both parties to resolve the election impasse without violence.

Mu Sochua in clash with police

Northwest of Phnom Penh in Battambang city, provincial police clashed with CNRP supporters and local residents on Thursday outside an election forum organized by a rights group.

Police surround the compound of the CCHR election forum in Battambang, Aug. 22, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Police surround the compound of the CCHR election forum in Battambang, Aug. 22, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
RFA
Senior CNRP member Mu Sochua was ruffled in the melee as police lines surrounded the compound to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) meeting, blocking local residents from entering.

Mu Sochua was forcibly pushed against a concrete wall while she was trying to help a local resident push through police lines.

“I am very disappointed with the Battambang authorities,” she told RFA, saying that her body hurt and that police were under pressure from the CPP to intimidate local residents into staying away from the forum.

“Those [participating in the forum] love peace but police surrounded their houses and prevented residents from participating,” she said.

Some local residents succeeded in pushing through the police line and participated in the forum under heavy police presence.

Battambang Police Chief Sor Thet said that he had sent police to ensure security and public order for the villagers at the forum, rejecting claims that police had assaulted Mu Sochua.

“Residents posted comments on Facebook saying that police in Battambang abused them, but we didn’t do that,” he told RFA.  

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

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