For months, election monitors have insisted that more than 1 million voters would be unfairly disenfranchised by a flawed voter registration list, which they said was pitted with irregularities and missing the names of eligible voters.
Those concerns proved true Sunday as what appeared to be substantial numbers of voters were met with a slew of obstacles that prevented them from casting their ballots.
At the Bun Rany Hun Sen Wat Phnom High School in Phnom Penh, neither Chann Thoeurn, 43, or four of his relatives could vote because their names had mysteriously disappeared from the voter list.
“I registered and had no problems, but now I cannot find my name,” he said as he and his family sat in the shade outside one of the polling rooms pondering what to do next.
Mr. Thoeurn, who is from the restive Boeng Kak lake community in Phnom Penh, said he had approached the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) for help, but that they could not help him and his relatives find their names on the list. Neither could the National Election Committee (NEC) officials he asked.
“I would have been interested in voting for the CNRP, because I need change,” he said. “I’m not happy and I’m sorry that it happened…. I’ve never had a problem with my family and have never had a conflict,” he said, referring to the Boeng Kak community’s frequent run-ins with authorities.
Across the schoolyard, Ouk Chanrasmey brandished her passport in disbelief after seeing her name, date of birth and address crossed off the list—because someone else had already voted using her identity. This, she said, made her “very angry.”
Beside her, 32-year-old Meng Samnang was having the same problem.
“I want the NEC to find a solution to help me,” she said. “This only happens once every five years, and I want to be able to vote.”
Had she been able to, she would have ticked the box beside the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) logo, she said.
Speaking as he left a polling station at Wat Phnom, CNRP president Sam Rainsy—who could not vote himself because his name was removed from the voter list—said: “There have been many irregularities, and I have received a lot of complaints.”
Back at the Bun Rany High School, as well as the polling stations at Baktouk High School and Sothearos Secondary School, other people complained of being misinformed about what documents they needed to bring in order to vote.
Others said their names had been misspelled or dates of birth incorrectly entered on the list.
This proved a problem for Long Seng, 55, who was turned away from a polling station on the outskirts of Kompong Cham City, which was set up inside the grounds of Wat Boeng Kok. His birthday on his ID card and on the voter registry did not match.
“I am grieving for my vote,” he said. “It’s not fair.”
He was hoping to cast his ballot for the CNRP. “I want to change the prime minister because the old leaders have been in power so long,” he said. “The problem is corruption. We need a new leader to eliminate corruption.”
The integrity of the voter list has long been called into question. Comfrel and Washington-based National Democratic Institute separately released audits of the voter list and found it to be riddled with flaws.
And, in their own audit, even the NEC found that 9 percent of names were missing, while 13 percent had been incorrectly entered.
Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said his organization has yet to gather definitive results regarding how many voters were affected by irregularities, but he said Sunday’s problems should give the NEC pause.
“People get angry and the NEC should be careful that people are easy to anger if they want to vote and cannot find their name.”
According to preliminary results issued by Transparency International Cambodia’s executive director Kol Preap on Sunday, the vote “contained an unusually high number of critical incidents at the polls.”
“In particular, T.I. observers have reported voters in large numbers who were unable to find their names on the voters lists or being turned away by polling station officials despite having adequate identification documentation.”
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter and Denise Hruby)