A national observer group said Saturday it saw intimidation, at least one case of ballot-stuffing and other irregularities.
The report by the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) was noteworthy in its detail and for the absence of a characterization of the polling and counting.
“We didn’t say if the election is free or fair,” said Kek Galabru, Nicfec spokeswoman, after discussing the group’s statement at a press conference. The group also reserved the right to amend its statement as additional information comes in.
Nicfec based its observations on 2,499 “stationary” observers and 172 mobile observers. In all, the NGO covered nearly 3,000 polling stations in 15 provinces.
Overall, the group said, polling was smooth and well-organized, and the presence of female voters with their children indicated a safe environment.
But the group noted that gunshots apparently fired into the air near polling stations in two districts in Kompong Cham province may have discouraged people to vote. And in a few stations, polling officials or village chiefs influenced the process either by helping voters or trying to prevent some voters from coming into the stations, the group said.
Nicfec said it also observed some intimidation by party agents, “but election officials generally were diligent in intervening to prevent such activities.”
Most seriously, the group said it saw a polling station chief in Kampot province insert ballots in the ballot box after voting hours. It was unclear how many ballots were stuffed or for which party.
“Moreover, some ballot boxes were sealed with the wrong seals, or seals had been changed overnight before boxes were brought to the counting station,” the Nicfec report stated.
“There were several reports of considerable delays in transferring ballot boxes to the counting station, which could provide opportunities for tampering with the ballots.”
Although the counting was transparent in most places, Nicfec said party agents and observers often were too preoccupied with keeping the ballot count to observe irregularities.
The group reported that in Kampot province, a counting official misread ballots.
A Nicfec official said the group may have seen more than the 500-member Joint International Observer Group did because it tried to get off the beaten path.
“The [National Election Committee] must investigate the complaints and allegations of manipulation and fraud advanced by the political parties,” Nicfec said. But the group also asked parties to use the NEC grievance process to resolve disputes.
Nicfec also noted with “grave concern” Amnesty International reports that opposition activists have fled their homes to seek refuge in Phnom Penh because of threats and intimidation.