New Concerns as NEC Releases More Unsealed Polling Records

The National Election Committee (NEC) on Friday publicly opened 12 official polling records from Siem Reap province, but seven of them had been either torn or improperly sealed, sparking fresh concerns from the opposition CNRP that they had been tampered with.

The unsealed packages—known as “safety box A”—were unveiled less than a week after eight other packages were brought out in a similar state as officials evaluated election documents from Kratie province.

“Safety package A is a special box, like the black box on a plane. Nobody can change it,” said CNRP candidate Kuoy Bunroeun, who was present during Friday’s session at the NEC. “But now the documents from seven polling stations were found unsealed, thus, they are not worth being called a safety package but an unsafe package.”

The packages containing election documents are being opened on orders from the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, which is investigating electoral fraud on the back of complaints submitted by the CNRP.

The opposition has said it has little faith in the NEC and the Constitutional Council due to their close ties with the ruling CPP. However, the party has agreed to press on with filing complaints over election irregularities with both bodies as a way to underline their partiality toward the CPP.

Election monitors have said that the unsealed safety packages, though not necessarily representative of the 19,009 polling stations nationwide, should be enough to convince the Constitutional Council that a more thorough investigation into election irregularities is needed before a final decision is made on the election results.

The unsealed boxes were not the only grievances expressed by the CNRP on Friday.

As the safety boxes were opened, Mr. Bunroeun also called for a revote at 16 polling stations in Siem Reap’s Svay Loeu and Varin districts, where it is alleged that soldiers based in Preah Vi­hear and Oddar Meanchey prov­inces were taken to cast votes.

Moreover, he said the validity of votes from 200 polling stations is in doubt in Siem Reap province and the CNRP wants votes to be recounted in 75 polling stations there.

Once the documents were taken out of the box, the results from 12 polling stations in Siem Reap City and Puok district showed that the CPP received more votes than the CNRP, but many of those polling stations also showed between 80 and 137 invalid votes, which the CNRP wants counted again.

In one station in Puok district’s Lvea commune, the 1102 form—a document used to tally the number of votes—recorded 272 votes for the CPP against 297 recorded on the 1108 form, a duplicate document also filled in at the polling station.

A representative from the ruling CPP downplayed the significance of the unsealed packages because the polling records inside showed that the CNRP had secured many of the votes.

“It’s been three provinces from which the [Constitutional Council] ordered the NEC to open the sealed documents, and the opposition in Battambang won many votes too,” said CPP candidate Siek Bun Hok.

“The discovery of some unsealed documents doesn’t affect the number of votes because box A is stored in box B, which is stored in box C, which is stored in box D. Packing them in many packages is for security and to avoid fraud,” he added.

But Mr. Bunroeun said many of the votes counted by the NEC were in fact invalid.

“We will wait to see what the Constitutional Council will do after seeing such huge irregularities,” he said.

In total, about 700 invalid votes were pulled form the opened packages on Friday. In Siem Reap, the CPP won by four seats to two for the CNRP. An additional 4,083 votes, or just 1 percent of the vote, for the CNRP would mean one seat would change hands.

Hoeu Rong, executive director of the NEC’s operations department, said that the high number of invalid votes does not prove that fraud was committed because many voters made mistakes when filling in their ballots. “In every election, we cannot limit the number of valid and invalid votes because it involves people’s knowledge,” he said.

Last week, NEC officials said improperly sealed packages from Kratie province pointed to insufficient training among NEC staff members and not fraud.

Three members of the Con­stitutional Council, who were present—Prince Norodom Chakkrapong, who is close to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Chem Veiyarith and Pit Taing San—declined to speak to reporters.

The Constitutional Council on Friday also ordered the NEC to open another eight safety packages from polling stations in Kandal province’s Takhmao City.

The body has scheduled a public hearing for Saturday over complaints by the opposition CNRP that the NEC used improperly sealed, and possibly tampered with, polling records during its investigation into election irregularities.

The public hearing will give the NEC a chance to provide evidence to defend itself after eight out of 13 packages containing original documents used to record votes from polling stations in Kratie were found to be improperly sealed.

The CNRP’s elected candidate for Kratie, Keo Phirum, said on Thurs­day that two lawyers would accompany him to the hearing.

“We all know and witnessed that there were irregularities with the ballots because the safety boxes were improperly sealed, so the hearing will be a chance to provide more evidence toward getting ap­proval from the court to recount the votes,” he said.

© 2013, All rights reserved.