A new report by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Sydney has ranked Cambodia’s 2013 national election as the fifth most “flawed or failed” out of the 73 national ballots held around the world between July 2012 and December 2013.
Based on surveys completed by a total of 855 election experts and observers around the world, the report was released on February 24 by the Electoral Integrity Project, which is located at the schools of government at the two prestigious universities.
The researchers asked participants to score the “integrity” of an election across 49 different areas, which were then sub-divided into 11 sections—including laws, procedures, voter registration, media coverage and vote counting.
Participants were then asked to give each of the 11 sections a score out of 100, and the average across the sections was taken to provide the elections with an overall “perception of electoral integrity.”
Cambodia, with its score of 45.6, performed better than only Belarus, the Republic of Congo, Djibouti, and Equatorial Guinea.
Countries perceived by observers to have had elections with more integrity than Cambodia’s include those that took place in Zimbabwe, Angola, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan—whose election body accidentally released some election results the day before the ballot had even taken place.
A September 13 parliamentary election held in Norway topped the list with a score of 86.4 out of 100.
The researchers said they compiled the report in order to provide a “comprehensive, systematic and consistent way” to compare election observation reports across various countries.
“Electoral observer missions by international and regional organizations provide in depth assessments of many contests…but it remains difficult to compare reports consistently across countries worldwide,” the report said, adding that the researchers made an attempt to ensure consistency across countries.
“The data has been tested and found to demonstrate high levels of internal reliability (consistency among experts), external reliability (when compared with equivalent independent indicators), and legitimacy (when expert judgments are compared with public assessments),” it said.
In Cambodia, where 38 observers were asked to take part, 15 responded, identifying voter registration—for which the country scored 30 out of 100—as the main setback at last year’s election. The strongest area for the July election was in the area of vote counting, where the country scored 65 out of 100, which was still below the overall average of 73.
Other areas scoring particularly poorly were “campaign finance” (35), “electoral authorities” (42) and “media coverage” (43).
The report notes briefly that the election was marred by a number of public complaints of people having trouble registering to vote, and that the result was met soon after with mass protests in Phnom Penh.
National Election Committee (NEC) Secretary-General Tep Nytha on Tuesday declined to comment on the study before reading its methodology, but defended his organization’s voter registration practices.
“The NEC has recruited an independent company to come and evaluate this election, and we have seen the reach of the registration list was 91 percent,” Mr. Nytha said, referring to a July audit carried out by a regional consulting group that found that 9 percent of registered voters could not find their name on voter roles on election day.
The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia had estimated that up to 1.25 million voters may have been disenfranchised during the July election.
Son Chhay, who has led the CNRP on the new joint-party electoral reform commission, said that while a functioning democracy requires ongoing freedoms of expression and association, the registration of citizens to vote was perhaps the most basic requirement.
“If you’re going to have a democracy, you have got to ensure the rights of citizens to vote. You cannot allow an organization to take that away,” Mr. Chhay said, referring to Mr. Nytha’s CPP-dominated NEC.