The National Election Committee (NEC) on Sunday publicly released official election documents from Kratie province after receiving orders to investigate allegations of electoral fraud, though a substantial amount of the evidence was unsealed, raising fears the documents had been tampered with.
After receiving orders from the Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC) to open 13 sets of sealed polling records, five were found to have been improperly sealed inside packages known as “safety box A.”
As well as the five improperly sealed packages from polling stations in Kratie province’s Svay Chareah commune, all 13 of the packages had polling results that differed from figures that were distributed to political parties and NEC officials at the commune and provincial level.
The opposition CNRP and election monitors—both of which have accused the NEC of lacking independence and working on behalf of the ruling CPP—heavily criticized the NEC’s use of improperly sealed documents in its investigation of election irregularities.
“This is a serious problem, a big problem showing that the election is not free and fair,” said Yim Sovann, spokesman for the CNRP. “This is only one point, as well as the 1.3 million voters who did not appear on voter lists along with other irregularities,” he added.
Kong Ravine, head of observers for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said bringing improperly sealed election documents to the table—some of which were simply wide open and others only partially shut using a piece of rope—revealed the possibility that the NEC had altered the documents ahead of Sunday’s event.
“If package A is not sealed properly it means somebody can change the documents inside. Package A should be kept in a safe place and also carefully sealed,” she said.
“We hope that, based on this morning, the CCC should consider [further investigations into] the safety packages,” she added.
Keo Phirum, CNRP lawmaker-elect in Kratie province, who attended Sunday’s public event, said the unsealed documents highlighted how the NEC was manipulating the results.
“The fact some of the packages are not sealed means that the NEC has systematically manipulated the forms in order to change the figures,” he said.
Election monitors said that the information revealed by the safety packages from 13 polling stations, though not necessarily representative of the 19,009 polling stations nationwide, should be enough to convince the CCC that a more thorough investigation into election irregularities be conducted before a final decision is made on the results of the contested election.
On polling day, copies of 1102 and 1108 forms, the initial forms on which votes are tallied and added up at polling stations, are signed off on by monitors and political parties and sealed inside a “safety box A,” the plastic package in which original copies of polling forms are meant to be secured to ensure they are not tampered with.
Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said that while the incongruities in figures recorded at different levels of the NEC did not obviously benefit either the CPP or CNRP, there should be a wider inquiry into the integrity of polling data.
“They only have to open [safety packages from] something like 2,000 polling stations to do an audit sample. From this we can verify the scale of the problems and whether it benefits a particular group or particular party and whether it will effect election outcome,” said Mr. Panha.
On Wednesday, CNRP president Sam Rainsy sent a letter to NEC President Im Suosdey calling for safety packages to be kept in a secure place to ensure that they can be used in any future investigation into the election. The CNRP has said that it will not sit in Parliament or validate a new government until a transparent inquiry into election irregularities has been completed.
Asked why some of the packages had been unsealed, Prom Nhean Vicheth, a spokesman for the CCC, said it had been a simple administrative error.
“The local-level administration was lacking in how it filled out the forms, but the outcome does not indicate any bias,” he said.
At a press conference held at its headquarters Sunday afternoon, NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said that the safety boxes in Kratie had not been opened or tampered with by the NEC, but were simply improperly sealed by lower-level NEC officials, many of whom he said received only one day of training.
“The open package does not impact the election results. The NEC has no right to make a decision regarding this. Now only the CCC has the right to decide whether to investigate,” Mr. Nytha said.
“We accept that they made a mistake, but not a big mistake. Many chiefs did not have enough training and did not close the package when they sent it to the NEC,” he added.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that failures on the part of the NEC should be used in future elections to strengthen the electoral process.
“What they found is an opportunity to improve for the next time. We will improve according to technology, according to ability of the nation. These [findings] are earmarks for [what can be improved] during the next term of elections,” he said.
Mr. Nhean Vicheth at the CCC said that, with the council’s investigation into Kratie province completed, it would now turn its attention to the opposition party’s remaining complaints.
“Now there are 15 complaints by the opposition party which means we have to investigate 15 provinces. We are reviewing all of the complaints and will send them along to the council for a meeting if a decision is needed,” Mr. Nhean Vicheth said.
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn and Eang Mengleng)