Monitor Raises Concerns Over Commune Election Integrity

The head of an independent election monitoring group on Thursday criticized the violent rhetoric of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top government officials in the lead-up to the commune elections, saying it could affect whether voters see the process as free and fair.

—Commune Election 2017—

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec), expressed numerous concerns over the fairness of the upcoming elections, including worries over talk of war and violence, in a wide-ranging interview with The Cambodia Daily.

cam photo nicfec odom
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia talks to the Cambodia Daily reporters on Thursday. (Sek Odom/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Hun Sen has repeatedly warned of violence if the ruling party loses the June 4 vote, including in comments on Thursday, while Defense Minister Tea Banh has threatened to “smash the teeth” of political opponents who contest the election results.

“We think that they are messages that strongly affect the free and fair election process,” Mr. Kuntheamy said.

He also questioned the independence of the National Election Committee (NEC)—the body that oversees elections—the number of security officers set to be deployed on election day, and the extra ballots to be distributed to each polling station.

Regarding the NEC, Mr. Kuntheamy said its reliance on government funding compromised its independence.

“The NEC might not be independent in circumstances where it continues to receive money through the government,” he said. “The law should require the NEC to have an autonomous budget to avoid any contact with a request through” a government ministry.

Contacted on Thursday, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said representatives from both parties gave “balance” to the committee.

“Receiving the money doesn’t certify the issue of independence. The most important thing is the policy of the NEC making it independent,” he said.

He added that donations could be accepted from anywhere as long as they did not “affect the neutrality of the NEC.”

Mr. Kuntheamy also raised concerns about the 50,000 security officers that the Interior Ministry intended to deploy.

“Based on my experience and comparing with other countries, I think that this number is a bit too much,” he said. “Our country doesn’t have wars, rebels, armed groups and terrorists.”

He further mentioned concerns about the extra 50 to 99 ballots that will be sent to each polling station in case of mistakes or spoiled papers.

“If we look back at elections in previous mandates, the turnout was only 66 to 67 percent of people who went to vote,” he said. “So, there were already many ballots left behind, and with the 20 percent reserved ballots and about 30 percent of leftover ballots, there were about 50 percent of ballots leftover at each polling stations.”

He added that Nicfec was “concerned that the use of ballots is not transparent, and could involve cheating.”

But Mr. Puthea insisted that cheating would be “impossible” with checks already in place.

“Each ballot is counted one-by-one by observers of all political parties in the polling station and after the voting is finished, all the leftover [ballots] have to be cut or pierced by scissors in order make those ballots unusable.”

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