takeo town – “Thirty-five,” a bespectacled woman shouted out from the counting table, holding up the ballot for all to see. “Thirty-four,” a man shouted at the table next to hers.
And so the National Election Committee counters at six tables went around at the Rokaa Knong commune counting station, shouting out the numbers, with local and party observers doing parallel counts, each inspecting the ballots for proper marks or double checks.
There were plenty to count. Nearly 97 percent of voters turned out in Takeo, the highest rate in the country.
Early in the day, the “35” piles (CPP), were bigger than the “34” piles (Funcinpec). The “18s” (Sam Rainsy Party) were shorter still. All of them were weighted down with rocks found in the primary school driveway.
Abruptly, the counting stopped, and an official brought a ballot for the commune election chief to inspect.
“Invalid!” he declared, inspecting a poorly formed scribble within the CPP box. That went into the piles of rejects.
The most common invalid ballots were checks outside the rectangle, according to commune election commission deputy chief Cheng Chantha. That was followed by ballots with two marks, and the blanks.
“Everything has gone smoothly here, no problems,” he said.
One problem developed outside the two counting rooms, however, when a drunk security man had to be escorted away several times.
“Many votes for Hun Sen!” he declared, then started pestering a CPP observer doing a parallel count. She shrugged him off, then an NEC official escorted him away for the fourth time. Eventually uniformed police took him away.
Witnessing the whole incident were two Asean observers, neither of whom wore ID tags. One sat outside the counting rooms clipping his fingernails and playing with his new compass. Asked where he was from, he declined to answer.
“Brunei,” his driver cheerfully answered.
“Don’t tell them anything,” he said to the driver. He was not seen actually observing the counting process during the morning.
While he sat outside, party observers doing parallel counts continued to scrutinize every ballot. The CPP, Sam Rainsy, Reastr Niyum, Khmer Angkor, and Khmer Citizens parties were each represented.
When the approximately 3,000 ballots were all counted four hours later, CPP appeared to have won the day, at least in Rokaa Knong commune.
A drink vendor outside on the road, 18-year-old Soy Dara, said he was excited to take part in his first election. He admitted to voting for “The Devada Party,” a reference to the CPP logo.
“If another party wins, I won’t be disappointed,” he said. “As long as the winner can help Cambodia.”
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