A top court ordered Cambodia's electoral body on Monday to unseal voting records in a second province as the main opposition party held a 20,000-strong rally with an ultimatum to the government to set up an independent probe on widespread irregularities in recently-held national elections or face a larger demonstration.
In an urgent statement, the Constitutional Council of Cambodia ordered the National Election Committee (NEC) to open packages with secured ballot information in Battambang province “in order to verify votes and vote-counting records.”
Last week, the Council, which is the final arbiter of the election results, had ordered packages with key voting data to be unsealed for Kratie province following claims by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) of massive election irregularities, including one million voters delisted from the electoral rolls.
In a stunning development, an RFA Khmer Service reporter who witnessed the opening of the Kratie packages at the weekend noticed that they had already been unsealed, raising concerns among election watchdog groups of vote tampering.
Some of the groups have accused the NEC, which oversees the country’s polls, of being a tool of the government after it announced preliminary results awarding a victory to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People Party (CPP) despite complaints of irregularities.
Freedom Park rally
At Monday’s rally, CNRP President Sam Rainsy accused the NEC of stealing votes from the opposition and giving them to the CPP."The NEC stole our votes for the CPP and now they claim they want to find the thief," he said.
Prompting cheers from the crowd, Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha said that if an independent committee to investigate irregularities is not established before the NEC announces official results of the polls, the CNRP will lead much larger mass demonstrations.
"The voters have voted and demanded changes, and when we want change we want to change the top leader first," Sam Rainsy said, amid chants of “change” from the crowd.
Sam Rainsy said the planned demonstrations would be staged in the tradition of Indian civil disobedience leader Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence movement.
Observers said that the CNRP gathering in Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on Monday was meant as a test of the party’s supporters before the planned larger mass demonstrations.Following criticism that voting records had been mishandled, the Constitutional Council court ordered the NEC to open original ballot records from eight polling stations in Battambang city on Wednesday.
“The opening of those packages must be done at the Council of Ministers on August 28 at 8 a.m.,” and the court will monitor the process, the Council statement said.
Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho, said irregularities in security packages in Kratie province have raised concerns over similar problems in other provinces.
“If we see places where there are more irregularities that might have affected the allocation of seats in the National Assembly, there should be reelections in those places,” she said.
The NEC’s preliminary findings supported the CPP’s claims that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55. The CNRP claims it won at least 63 seats in the National Assembly.
Meanwhile at the Ministry of the Interior, officials released a DVD that it said was aimed at documenting for foreign diplomats and nongovernmental organizations an alleged move by Sam Rainsy to overthrow the government by calling for mass protests .
Ministry of the Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the DVDs, titled “Documents Related to Holding Massive Demonstrations for Social Change,” were aimed at revealing the “bad intentions” behind Sam Rainsy’s calls for mass demonstrations.
“It shows [leaders of the opposition party] campaigning to ask people to hold demonstrations to topple the government in 2013,” he said.
He added that the government will fulfill its duty to protect the country if any mass demonstration turn into riots.
Hun Sen had warned previously of protests by his CPP to counter any mass opposition demonstrations and had deployed troops, tanks, and armored vehicles in the capital to boster security, which the opposition said was a move to intimidate the people.
Kratie security packages
Sam Rainsy said any failure by the NEC to open the packages of further original ballot records would also prompt mass demonstrations.
At Sunday’s hearing when NEC officials opened the Kratie security packages—which contain original vote counts from polling stations in the province on voting day—10 out of 13 were found to have been unsealed.
They were opened in front of reporters, opposition officials, and representatives from the Constitutional Council.
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said the irregularity might have occurred due to lack of employees’ proper training resulting from budget constraints.
CNRP lawmaker Kuy Bunroeun claimed that the original ballot records in the packages were at odds with preliminary results released by the NEC.
He said they included invalid ballots that are missing from the packages and lower vote tallies for small opposition parties.
The Constitutional Council is still reviewing the complaint about the Kratie irregularities, along with others filed to the NEC.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.