Cambodia’s major election monitors applauded Election Day for the new commune councils as “the best in Cambodia’s recent history, in terms of the few problems reported.” But they also found several hundred cases of technical irregularities as well as outright intimidation and illegal campaigning.
A National Election Committee spokesman denounced the monitors’ efforts. “I don’t believe the reports from the NGOs,” Prum Nhean Vichet said. “They are not neutral.”
In a joint statement released Tuesday, the monitors said campaign activities proved to be “tangible and sure indicators of Cambodia’s development toward democratization.” They also found a wide variety of problems:
• Campaigning on the day before the Feb 3 balloting, which is illegal, was reported in 128 cases, most involving the CPP. This included both wholesale donations of gifts to communities and direct exchange of money for votes. “This kind of infraction was widespread throughout the country,” the monitors said.
• Local leaders threatened or intimidated voters in 105 cases. “Some civilians came with guns and uniforms. Some were provoked in the line,” the monitors reported.
• Technical irregularities were reported in 560 cases, including secrecy violations and missing ballot boxes.
• Rights of voters were obstructed by polling officials in 320 cases. Voters were missing from voting lists, or there were “problems regarding voter cards.”
“In most cases, the counting process was conducted transparently by [NEC] staff,” said the report, issued by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, and the Neutral Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
But the counting also involved irregularities:
• Guns or explosives were brought into polling stations or threats were made in 20 cases.
• Ballots were not “dealt with in an orderly fashion” or shown to observers or party agents in 76 cases.
• Fraud in ballot counting was reported in 57 cases.
The report also documented a dramatic case of post-election harassment: In two Kompong Cham province villages where voters supported the opposition, local authorities turned off the water, Comfrel reported.
The watchdog groups, which sent tens of thousands of monitors around the country, urged the NEC to investigate the complaints and take action where needed. They noted the NEC had not taken any disciplinary action against election officials despite evidence of violations.
Comfrel board Director Sok Sam Oeun said that under the current system, commune election authorities are expected to hear complaints, but that authorities at that level may be afraid to take disciplinary action.
Sok Sam Oeun and other monitors urged the government to take steps to ensure the impartiality of the NEC. They stopped short of suggesting NEC members be appointed by lawmakers, as some have suggested. All complaints registered by the monitors have been sent to the NEC for review, Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha said.
NEC spokesman Prum Nhean Vichet said Tuesday the elections had been “normal” and that there had not been any “strange events.” He said the NEC is an independent body. “Comfrel wants foreigners to look down on Cambodians,” he said.
The NEC has received 125 complaints covering the campaign period, vote counting and vote publishing, said NEC complaints official Kien Phay. He declined to comment on how many cases have been resolved.