Fresh News Results Create ‘Irregularity’ in NEC Process

A National Election Committee spokesman on Monday warned that the government-aligned website Fresh News had caused an “irregularity” by publishing unofficial election results ahead of the elections body.

At about 9 p.m. on Sunday, Fresh News posted a photograph of a document claiming that 1,163 communes had been won by the CPP, 482 by the CNRP and 1 by the Khmer National Unity Party. The election committee (NEC) was meanwhile disseminating commune-by-commune results on television and its website, a process that was still less than three-quarters complete as of 6 p.m. last night.

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The NEC holds news conference at the Hotel Sofitel Phnom Penh to explain the vote counting process for Commune Elections on Sunday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“By law, the NEC has the right to show the results to the public,” Hang Puthea, NEC spokesman, said on Monday.

“It’s an irregularity” that the NEC was not the first to announce the outcome, he said. After the NEC’s count had been completed, it would make a “decision about this,” Mr. Puthea said, declining to elaborate.

Mr. Puthea added that he did not know how the website had gathered its early tally.

Fresh News CEO Lim Cheavutha defended the site’s posting of the unofficial statistics, saying they were gathered from “some officers” and staff members stationed across the country.

“We just wanted to update our readers,” Mr. Cheavutha said.

It was inconsequential even if there turned out to be discrepancies between Fresh News’ results and the NEC’s, Mr. Cheavutha said.

“What we released is just primary data,” he said. “The official results will be released by the NEC.”

But analysts argued that unofficial announcements were a problem, given Cambodia’s history.

“It sends the message that real authority over the election result still emanates from outside the NEC,” Sebastian Strangio, author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia,” said in an email.

It was commonplace in the past “for media outlets or government officials to ‘predict’ the result before an official announcement of provisional results was made…[but] in a close election with higher stakes (i.e. 2018) this could be the difference between the opposition winning and losing,” Mr. Strangio said. “While the CPP still appears to have won a (slim) majority of the popular vote, this kind of thing could undermine public confidence in the election authorities.”

Political analyst Meas Nee said the tally had been illegally released—whether the results turn out to be accurate.

“Fresh News has been very close to the government, so it’s why sometimes they get the information faster. But some information from Fresh News is sometimes made up or an exaggerated truth,” he said.

“The election law states that only the National Election Committee is able to announce the official result of the election, and anyone who dares to do that, it means that it is against the law,” he said.

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