Angry Opposition Demands Recount
Opposition groups declared fraud and angrily demanded a recount Tuesday amid claims by the ruling CPP of a big victory.
Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party threatened to disrupt efforts to form a new coalition government, potentially sending Cambodia into political turmoil. But pressure also started to build on all parties to accept the results for the good of the Cambodian people.
The CPP claimed Tuesday to have won 66 of the 122 seats in the National Assembly. Partial commune counting results gathered by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia also seemed to point to a CPP victory, but perhaps with four to eight fewer seats.
Preliminary results from the National Election Committee were being reported slowly, making it difficult to project final seats with any certainty. On Tuesday, the NEC reported only one completed province, Takeo, which was won by the CPP. (See page 9 for partial results.)
“I don’t believe any numbers” until the final ones are announced by the NEC, one Asian diplomat said Tuesday night. When the CPP floated its numbers late Monday, the feeling of election watchers was that Funcinpec and the CPP were in a tight race.
Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his opposition ally, former Funcinpec minister Sam Rainsy, declared fraud Tuesday and vowed not to join a coalition government with the CPP.
They demanded new elections in disputed areas and said their elected representatives would boycott the National Assembly if new polls were not held.
“We have observed many irregularities in the polling, counting and reporting of election results,” Prince Ranariddh said.
He charged that the irregularities include missing ballots, intentional miscounting of ballots, threats to observers, denial of observer access, improper ballot moving and unexplained delays in results.
“In areas where major irregularities occurred, we demand that elections be reorganized and carried out with proper procedure and observation,” the prince said.
Leng Sochea, an NEC spokesman, said Tuesday afternoon that part of the delay was caused by recounting ballots at the provincial level to satisfy various party complaints.
CPP officials Tuesday said their internal count shows the CPP winning 66 seats, Funcinpec 42 and Sam Rainsy Party 14. That would leave no seats for any other parties.
Svay Sitha, a political adviser to the Council of Ministers, said the figures came from party agents who observed commune counting around the country. He credited the CPP’s communication system for the rapid information.
Prak Sokhonn, an adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, disclosed the same numbers on Tuesday evening and said they were based on nearly 100 percent of the communes. But when asked about the allegations of fraud by the opposition, he became cagey.
“Let’s first wait until the NEC issues the final results,” Prak Sokhonn said. “I don’t think the time is right [for the opposition] to say that the result is not good enough. Let’s don’t talk yet about the coalition government threat. Maybe the NEC will issue something else, who knows?”
Indeed, some diplomats said Tuesday they believe that the final results will come in lower than the CPP “projection,” thus perhaps helping placate the opposition.
On Monday, CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith had indicated the CPP would be pleased with getting as few as a simple majority, or 51 seats.
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright even joined in on the discussion Tuesday, noting from an Asean meeting in Manila that “any declarations of victory are premature.”
She added: “The only people who at this stage deserve congratulations are the people of Cambodia who turned out to vote in heavy numbers.”
Svay Sitha agreed that in any case the CPP won’t get the seats necessary to control two-thirds of the parliament, and will need to find a coalition partner to form the new government.
The CPP issued a statement on Tuesday night “joining” the Joint International Observer Group in praising the electoral process as reflecting the will of the Cambodian people.
The CPP also appealed to all parties to “accept and respect the right of self-determination of Cambodians…in the spirit of real democracy.”
Said Svay Sitha earlier in the day: “Everyone should place the interest of the people above everything else,” he said. “It’s time to develop the country and time for national reconciliation. It’s also what the international community wants.”
Stephen Solarz, a former US congressman co-leading the joint US observer group, said Tuesday that he hoped all parties would accept the results for the good of democracy in Cambodia, unless a systematic pattern of fraud is found.
Prak Sokhonn noted that Hun Sen has repeatedly pledged to transfer power within five hours if the CPP loses the election. He said other parties should have the same respect.
But Prince Ranariddh argued Tuesday that seven to 10 seats were “stolen” through irregularities.
Sam Rainsy claimed serious irregularities in Svay Rieng, Siem Reap, Pursat, and Kompong Chhnang provinces. In Svay Rieng, he claimed that some Sam Rainsy ballots were simply thrown out during the counting process.
“Had there been no fraud, no cheating, we would represent the majority and Prince Norodom Ranariddh is entitled to be prime minister. We have to denounce this fraud. Prince Ranariddh is entitled to be the next prime minister….This is a betrayal, an overturning of the will of the people.” He pledged to take “concrete cases” of irregularities to the NEC.
The Son Sann Party and the Cambodian Neutral Party, part of the National United Front with Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, also announced they would boycott the results.
In addition, the Sangkum Thmei Party led by Loy Sim Chheang said it would refuse to accept the election results, and an aide to First Prime Minister Ung Huot said his Reastr Niyum Party also was protesting election irregularities.
If the CPP indeed wins, an Asean diplomat said it would be because of their control at the grassroots.
“I think it’s the political machine. I remember in 1993 when they got 51 [seats]. So all they had to do is work on others.”
When asked if he thought intimidation was a big factor, he replied: “Let’s say silent pressure.”
He said he also believed that the impact of last year’s factional fighting was still being felt by many Cambodians, and that they didn’t want history to repeat.
Many experts have said over the last two weeks that the worst-case scenario for the elections would be CPP losing and then imploding politically and militarily in efforts to retain power.
“This is a good result for the nation,” an RCAF general said on Tuesday. “If the CPP lost, what happens to the country? Maybe there would be no agreement and possible fighting. It could be the same as five years ago, when the CPP opposed the result.”
Poll jitters have caused many Cambodians to stockpile on food or even flee Phnom Penh.
Prak Sokhonn laughed when asked why the CPP apparently did so well.
“That’s a secret of the CPP,” he said. But then he added that many Cambodians are simply more comfortable with the CPP.
One of the party’s selling points over the years is that it has been the one to protect Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge regaining power. It also has donated rice, and built schools, roads and other public projects especially in the countryside.
(Additional reporting by Chris Decherd, Pin Sisovann and the Associated Press)