Comfrel Reports Spike in Election Irregularities
By | August 16, 2013

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), the country’s largest independent election monitor, has recorded roughly four times the number of irregularities in this year’s vote than in the 2008 polls.

Comfrel monitors observed more than 10,000 irregularities at polling stations last month, compared to 2,012 irregularities in 2008, despite having had less monitors in the field than they did five years ago, said Kong Ravin, Comfrel’s head of observers.

“The most important [irregularity] is related to voters missing their right to vote. During election day, they could not find their name on the list or their name was already used by other people or their name was incorrect and they could not vote,” Ms. Ravin said.

Across the nation on July 28, 10,398 irregularities were recorded by Comfrel observers. The highest numbers of irregularities were re­corded in the country’s two largest constituencies, Kompong Cham province, where 3,138 irregularities were recorded, and Phnom Penh municipality, where there were 1,822 irregularities.

“I think 10,000 [irregularities] is a big problem, compared to the previous election, the irregularities were just 2,000 or 3,000. [These results] we only get from 5,000 polling stations,” she said, adding that there were 19,009 polling stations across the country.

At a press conference held the day after the election, Transparency International (T.I.) said that findings from 906 observers in 407 polling stations around the country had shown that at 60 percent of polling stations, there were people registered to vote who were unable to find their names on the lists tacked to the walls outside.

The voter list was at the center of electoral concerns even leading up to the national vote. Comfrel and Washington-based National Democratic Institute separately released audits that found the list to be riddled with flaws that risked disenfranchising more than 1 million of about 9.6 million registered voters. In its own audit, the National Election Committee (NEC) found that 9 percent of names were missing, while 13 percent had been incorrectly entered.

Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said this week that the refusal by the NEC to release polling station voter lists and Identity Certificates for Election [ICEs] would stifle efforts to gauge the scale of voter list irregularities or conduct an investigation into the credibility of results as has been demanded by the opposition CNRP.

“The voter list was hugely inflated. And also the indelible ink could be removed. This means [the NEC] cannot guarantee one person one vote. This is why there needs to be a system of investigation [to] look at the voter list on voting day and the number of ICEs that have been issued and misused and manipulated,” he said.

Mr. Panha said that there were 1 million ICEs issued for the commune election last year, and another 700,000 issued by local officials this year, meaning that there were potentially 1.7 million valid identification documents that could have been used by voters in the national election.

“This is a huge problem. There are also a lot of allegations that there were fakes or not really an accurate number [of ICEs] have been issued. So [the election] needs to be audited,” he said.

Preap Kol, executive director of T.I., said Thursday that the flawed voter list ultimately meant that the results of the election could not be trusted.

“It’s really significant. The quality of the election will likely depend on the quality of the voter lists,” he said.

“All of these problems will give us the assumption that the outcome of the election does not reflect the will of the people who were not able to vote,” he added.

Both the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP claim to have won the vote, with the CNRP alleging massive fraud and calling for an impartial investigation into irregularities.

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Despite government efforts this week to stop land protesters from flooding into the capital to seek help from national-level authorities, dozens of aggrieved villagers involved in land disputes protested once again in Phnom Penh on Friday.

In the early 1970s, Soy Sen, the illegitimate son of a local official, lived with his grandmother in a tiny house here. Too poor to attend school past the second grade, he spent his days running free through his family’s small rice field as he tended cattle.

Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court on Friday released on bail five villagers at the center of a high-profile land dispute with the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem. The villagers’ arrests had sparked a series of recent protests in Phnom Penh.

Two men were arrested in Prey Veng province on Friday for repeatedly dunking a 14-year-old boy’s head in a container of water after he apparently stole four coconuts from their property, according to local police officials.

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