After nine hours of counting and heated arguments between CPP and CNRP representatives, the national election body had yet to declare the winner of a Svay Rieng province commune where the opposition CNRP is contesting the results of the June 4 local elections, though the preliminary results put the ruling CPP narrowly ahead.
The CNRP won 487 of the country’s 1,646 communes to the CPP’s 1,158, according to unofficial results, but is contesting 27 where it lost by less than 0.5 percent of the total vote count.
The National Election Committee (NEC) started recounting ballots in the first of them—Romeas Hek district’s Doung commune—on Monday morning in Phnom Penh.
The NEC assigned five teams to recount ballots from the commune’s 23 polling stations.
On multiple occasions in the counting room on Monday, the head of the polling station had to order representatives of both parties to stop yelling and pointing fingers at each other over invalid ballots.
By on Monday evening, after tense arguments between party representatives who spent, in at least one case, more than an hour wrangling over a single ballot, the CPP had 2,587 votes, just seven ahead of the opposition. But the CNRP is insisting that the NEC reconsider about 20 additional ballots initially deemed invalid.
Arguments over the ballot papers involved unclear tick marks, dirt stains and incorrectly positioned election committee stamps.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the committee had yet to decide on 66 additional ballots and would announce the winner this morning.
Each party is already attributing blame.
Nguon Kolboth, a representative for the CPP, accused the opposition of having more of its own representatives present at the recount than is allowed and of having them yell deliberately to disturb the counters.
According to Mr. Kolboth, only two party representatives are allowed to attend recounts under NEC rules, but the CNRP had “no fewer than 10 people” present.
CNRP lawmaker Kong Saphea denied that the opposition had more than its designated share of representatives present and accused the NEC counters of favoring the CPP.
“We will not accept the decision yet. We want accuracy and more justice than this because the vote recounting favors the CPP,” he said.
The CNRP says it initially won Doung commune by three votes, then lost it by one after the CPP requested a recount from the provincial election committee, prompting the opposition’s complaint to the NEC.
Meng Sopheary, the CNRP’s head of electoral and legislative affairs, said the opposition had asked the NEC for recounts in 18 other communes, with eight more still working their way through various provincial election committees. The CPP has asked for recounts in an unknown number of communes as well.
The NEC is due to announce final nationwide results by June 25. But Mr. Puthea raised concerns that the election body would not have enough time to deal with the 34 complaints in total that demand the NEC recount the ballots.
“Even today there is only one commune, but we haven’t finished it yet,” he said.