Among the registered voters who went to the polls April 1, an estimated 100,000 did not cast their ballots because they could not find their names on voting lists or lacked the required identity documents, a monitor said Tuesday.
“According to my estimation, at least 100,000 could not vote” in the commune elections, said Mar Sophal, monitoring coordinator with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
However, Mar Sophal admitted that tallying the precise number of registered voters who left the country’s 14,428 polling stations without voting is difficult.
Comfrel plans to follow this more carefully in coming elections, possibly by instructing monitors to spend most of their time outside polling stations rather than inside, Mar Sophal said.
“We are discussing a new monitoring technique” that would recommend monitors spend about 70 percent of their time posted outside polling stations during elections, he said.
Comfrel expressed concern last week that changes in the voter registration process may have confused voters prior to the election, and that new identification requirements for voting, in addition to mistakes in voter lists, may have prevented a significant number of people from casting ballots on April 1.
Kek Galabru, chair of the board of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia and founder of local rights group Licadho, said that she could not estimate how many registered voters left the polls without voting.
But based on the experiences of observers, “I think that there are a lot,” she said.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy said he found Comfrel’s estimate conservative.
“I think [100,000] is a strong underestimation,” he said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that, even if it were true that 100,000 people were not able to vote, this would not have seriously affected the outcome of the elections.
Cheam Yeap said that observers and party agents should have made complaints to electoral officials on the spot if voters were experiencing trouble at the polls.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha declined to comment on Comfrel’s figures, but said that no complaint had been received from voters saying they were not able to vote.
Comfrel is “not fair” in its assessment of the NEC, he said.
Mar Sophal called on the NEC-and the local officials who work under them—to investigate claims of irregularities more thoroughly and allow more time to resolve complaints.
Many complaints submitted to Commune Election Commissions after the poll were rejected due to a lack of evidence, and people who were unable to vote may have filed complaints if they had had more time, he said.
Voters had three days to file complaints to CECs, and the deadline for political parties to file initial complaints was 11:30 am on April 2, less than 24 hours after the polls closed.
Mar Sophal also said that an “independent election court,” separate from the NEC, should handle complaints to avoid a conflict of interests.
“The NEC electoral commission at all levels doesn’t have any kind of deep investigation,” he said.
Tep Nytha disputed claims that complaint investigations were biased, and said that while CECs and Provincial Election Commissions may reject complaints on the basis of a lack of evidence, this does not reflect on the complaint process at the NEC level.
NEC investigations are thorough but are subject to tight time constraints, he said.