Cambodian Poll Panel Announces CPP Win After Abandoning Joint Probe

cambodia-kem-sokha-aug-2013.jpg CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha speaks at a press conference in Phnom Penh on preliminary election results announced by the NEC, Aug. 12, 2013.

Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) announced election results reaffirming a victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party on Monday in a surprise move after the committee abandoned attempts to form an opposition-ruling party coalition group to probe poll irregularities.

The abrupt announcement came as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)  were still in talks about forming a joint committee to probe irregularities in the July 28 national election.

The move by the NEC, which conducts elections in the country, also came as a surprise because the committee had said three days earlier that it would delay results pending a resolution to opposition complaints of widespread poll irregularities.  

The CNRP rejected the NEC’s results, which gave the opposition 44 percent and the CPP 49 percent of the vote, saying the announcement was “against voters’ will” and warning that they could prompt mass protests.

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said the NEC had announced the tally despite an earlier postponement because it expected the talks on forming a coalition committee to investigate irregularities would fail.    

“We thought the coalition committee could not be established, so we went ahead in order to fulfill our role,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. 

He said the NEC was under pressure to release the results, which are final pending complaints from the parties, because it was already behind schedule for an Aug. 10 announcement.

“We couldn’t wait any longer because the schedule is defined by law, and if the parties don’t agree with the result they can file a complaint with the NEC or Constitutional Council within 72 hours.”

The NEC said that the results were determined after addressing complaints that had been filed, and that remaining irregularities “would not seriously affect the election results.”

Voters 'waiting for justice'

The CNRP, which has said more than 1 million people had their names removed from voter lists, had called for a full investigation including U.N. participation.

The popular vote tallies announced Monday were the same as provisional figures released earlier that provided the basis for the CPP claiming 68 seats of the National Assembly’s 123 seats and leaving the CNRP 55.

CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha rejected the results, reiterating the CNRP’s claim that it had won at least 63 seats and warning that the announcement could prompt mass demonstrations.

“The voters are waiting for justice but the NEC is stubborn, and the NEC is opposing the voters’ will,” he told reporters in Phnom Penh.

“The NEC must take responsibility before any revolt or protest by voters [that might emerge] leads to political instability.”  

According to the results, the CPP received 3,235,969 votes across the country while the CNRP received 2,946,176 and remaining votes were split among several smaller parties.

The new figures could be ratified by Friday, when the number of seats won by the two parties in the National Assembly is also expected to be announced.

Hang Puthea, director of the local NGO Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections Cambodia (Nicfec), said the NEC’s abrupt announcement raises questions about the committee’s impartiality amid charges that it has been used as a tool of the CPP.  

“The announcement has cast doubt on the NEC’s motives because the CPP and CNRP are still in talks,” he said.

Protest concerns

The political deadlock over the election has raised tensions in the capital Phnom Penh, where the government deployed extra troops and armored vehicles last week after the CNRP said it would hold mass demonstrations if final results are decided without a full investigation.  

Minister of the Interior and Permanent Security Command Committee for the Elections President Sar Kheng issued a statement Monday urging people to remain calm and continue about their daily lives while allowing political parties to work out the establishment of a new government.

“The Permanent Security Command Committee for the Elections has recognized people’s rights to protest against election process, but people who participate in the those activities must comply with the law,” he said.

“Don’t provoke any problems that would affect security, public order, and social security. People must participate in the protest peacefully in order to protect other people's harmony.”

The government has previously warned that CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who traveled to the United States last week to attend his daughter's wedding, will be held responsible if any mass demonstrations led by his party over disputed election results turn violent and threaten public security.   

On Friday, the two parties agreed to look into the possibility of setting up a probe panel comprising members of both parties as well as nongovernmental organizations and observers from the United Nations and other international groups.

The same day, the NEC had said it would delay preliminary election results scheduled over the weekend, saying election irregularities needed to be resolved first.

Hun Sen, Southeast Asia's longest-serving prime minister, has said that his CPP will move to convene the National Assembly and establish the new government by the end of September even if CNRP's lawmakers refuse to accept the results.

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

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