NEC Deadline Arrives; Recount to End

Opposition parties on Friday continued to demand recounts over alleged vote-counting irregularities as the National Election Committee deadline for complaints arrives today.

The NEC, which plans to stop recounting today, has received complaints about more than half of the nearly 1,600 commune counting stations. But it has completed only eight recounts thus far—less than 1 percent of the vote. Election officials and watchdogs say the recounts have not changed the July 26 polls.

“There is not much difference when we recount,” NEC Secre­tary-General Im Suorsdei said. “We have seen some suspect ballot papers, but they have been small technical problems.”

On Friday, the NEC recounted votes from three counting centers in Kompong Cham and Kom­pong Speu provinces. In the one commune that was completed, only one vote was declared in­valid. Today, the NEC was ex­pected to recount votes from two communes in Takeo province.

Vote counters and party obser­vers at the NEC on Friday reported counting was slow be­cause of lengthy discussions over whether individual ballots were valid. Party agents reported numerous technical problems, but uncovered no hard evidence that the election result was altered.

Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party have said they will not recognize election results until their demands for recounts are met, setting the stage for a potential constitutional crisis in which parliament would be deadlocked over forming a new government.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose CPP won a 64-seat majority in the National Assem­bly, has offered to form a three-way coalition government headed by himself. But the opposition has rejected the offer as “premature,” citing their complaints.

All evidence of irregularities submitted by the end of today will be analyzed at a Tuesday hearing. “If the hearing of the NEC de­cides to give the time to re­count, we will continue,” NEC spokes­man Leng Sochea said Friday.

Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said it is important for the NEC to show good will to all parties by continuing to recount if evidence lends suspicion to the accuracy of the original count.

But Samraing Kamsan, spokes­man for NEC Chairman Chheng Phon, said the NEC is expected to reject requests by Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party to recount ballots from more than 800 communes. The underman­ned NEC does not have the time or staff to recount a large proportion of the ballots, he said.

Opposition parties have blasted the decision to stop counting until the hearing, saying not nearly enough recounting was done to determine if the CPP had committed widespread fraud. Sam Rainsy demanded Friday that the NEC recounts at least 100 communes selected at random by himself and Funcin­pec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

“We do not agree with this procedure to end so quickly,” Sam Rainsy said. “What we want to do now is a random check…in the presence of international obser­vers. We do not want them to have time to arrange the ballots so the recount matches the original count.”

The party reported Friday that Sam Rainsy was to meet with NEC officials to request which communes they want recounted.

If the opposition accepts the results of the election after its complaints are heard, Funcinpec steering committee member Ahmad Yahya said they would demand a power-sharing agreement based on the percentage of votes won by each party.

(Report­ing by Marc Levy, Pin Sisovann, Agence France-Presse and Deutsche Presse-Agentur )

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