Cambodia’s Highest Court Begins Review of Election Complaints

cambodia-nec-ballots-aug-2013.jpg National Election Committee officials check ballot counts at the commitee's offices in Phnom Penh on Aug. 3, 2013.

Cambodia’s highest court on Tuesday dismissed several opposition complaints of widespread irregularities in recent national elections as it began a review of disputed poll results showing a victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party.

The Constitutional Council, which has up to 20 days to announce decisions on 33 complaints, is the final arbiter of the legitimacy of preliminary results from the National Election Committee (NEC) contested by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

The CNRP claims it has had its victory snatched away due to ballot irregularities and has threatened to launch mass demonstrations if its complaints are not dealt with.

The Constitutional Council dismissed all of the complaints it considered in its first session on Tuesday, upholding an earlier decision by the NEC rejecting several complaints of irregularities in central Kampong Chhnang province.

A statement by the court’s president Ek Sam Ol issued after the hearing said the Constitutional Council dismissed the allegations because it had determined the NEC’s decision was in line with the law.

Process 'not transparent'

The CNRP rejected the verdict, saying the hearing was not transparent as it was held behind closed doors.

“The CNRP cannot accept the decision because the process is not transparent,” Ros Sou, the CNRP’s official for Kampong Chhnang told RFA’s Khmer Service after the hearing.

Koul Panha, director of local polls watchdog the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), urged the Constitutional Court to open the remaining meetings to the public.

“There is no good explanation to the public about why there wasn’t a public hearing,” he told RFA.

The Constitutional Council has received 33 complaints and so far has completed investigating 14 of them.

Of the 19 complaints for which review is under way, nine involve challenges to the NEC’s vote counts, while others concern issues including campaign malfeasance and voter rolls and registration.

CNRP representatives have been called to answer questions before the court on complaints in Prey Veng and Kompong Thom provinces, indicating decisions on those cases will be announced next, CNRP official Eng Chhay Eng told RFA.

Preliminary results by the NEC support the CPP claim that it has won 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, against 55 for the CNRP.

The CNRP, which has called for a U.N.-backed investigation into the polls, maintains it won at least 63 seats and says that the CPP and NEC colluded to deny about one million votes for the CNRP.

CNRP's Son Chhay (l) and the CPP's Prum Sokha (r) speak to reporters after talksheld at the National Assembly building, Aug. 20, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
CNRP's Son Chhay (l) and the CPP's Prum Sokha (r) speak to reporters after talksheld at the National Assembly building, Aug. 20, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Disagreements over the results of the July 28 election could mean political deadlock on the formation of a new government.

Talks between the two parties over the past weeks aimed at forming a joint committee to investigate the polls have not made any breakthroughs, with a two-hour meeting Tuesday night producing little results, officials who attended said afterwards.  

“Even though we met three times and our meeting hasn’t produced any breakthrough yet, the results from this meeting will be reviewed by the parties’ leaders in order to seek possibilities for negotiating in the future,” Minister of the Interior Prum Sokha, chief of the CPP working group on talks with the CNRP, told reporters at the National Assembly building.

The CNRP’s threats to launch mass demonstrations have sparked fears that the deadlock could end in political violence, after the government responded by deploying troops and armored vehicles in the capital Phnom Penh earlier this month.

On Tuesday a court in the city released on bail four people who were arrested last week in connection with a demonstration in which two of them planned to hand out flowers to military personnel stationed in the capital.

Tut Chanpanha (r) and Sok Dalis (l) speak to reporters in Phnom Penh after their release, Aug. 20, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Tut Chanpanha (r) and Sok Dalis (l) speak to reporters in Phnom Penh after their release, Aug. 20, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Tut Chanpanha and Sok Dalin were charged with “incitement to felony” after they planned to hand out the flowers in a bid to promote peace, while Hiv Borin and print shop owner Lim Lypaeng face charges in connection with producing allegedly inciting stickers that authorities said were linked to the protest.  

After Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Seng Neang granted the bail, the four were transported from Prey Sar prison to the office of local rights group Licadho, which has been working with the defendants.

Speaking to RFA after arriving at Licadho, Tut Chanpanha denied the charges against him.

“I didn’t commit any crime,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, Licadho senior investigator, urged the court to drop all charges against the four.

“The release on bail has limited [their] freedom because they are being watched by the court,” he said.

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


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