Observers Denied Access in Some Poll Stations

Although crowded polls were the biggest distraction Sunday, observers reported scattered problems of being denied access.

In general, observer groups were still processing initial re­ports and were reluctant to make any conclusions until further investigation.

The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections reported that voting had gone well overall. But the group noted that observers were initially denied admission to polling stations in Kiri Vong district in Takeo province and at least one polling station in Prey Veng province east of Phnom Penh.

The situation in Takeo was re­solved by 8:45 am—nearly two hours after the polls opened—after a series of telephone calls, the national observer group re­ported.

In Prey Veng, one of the Coffel observers reported being physically pushed out of a polling station, said Yi Dara, a Coffel report writer. The polling station chief erroneously had argued that only one observer was allowed rather than four.

“They waited until the station manager calmed down, and then one hour later were allowed to observe” after showing electoral officials copies of the regulations, Yi Dara said.

Provincial election officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Coffel also reported that at least one station in Phnom Penh on Monivong Boulevard opened 30 minutes early, without observers there to witness that the ballot box was empty.

The group’s observers also re­ported seeing some small “working groups” of unidentified persons at various places in the country noting and recording voter movements outside stations.

Thun Saray, president of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, also reported isolated incidents of Comfrel observers being refused access for about one hour.

“We’ve received reports of a few cases,” Thun Saray said Sunday eve­ning. “But almost all of [the rest] of our people had no problems.”

Thun Saray did not have the reports in front of him, but said he believed Prey Veng and Kompong Cham were two of the provinces where access denial took place.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party also reported several cases of party observers being denied access in Battambang and Kompong Cham provinces.

Each party is allowed to have one observer at each station.

Sam Rainsy Party officials also said that four cars trying to deliver food to observers Sunday night in southern Phnom Penh were followed repeatedly by a half-dozen motorcycles.

The opposition party members felt threatened enough that they didn’t make the final delivery, one of the members said. The party’s observers were staying overnight with the ballot boxes.

On Saturday, the National Election Committee had disqualified observers from the Buddhist Relief Association for the Poor and the Khmer Youth Association of Development Farmers, and later a third group called Foffec.

The last-minute move eliminated associations suspected of being linked to the military or the CPP.

It was unclear Sunday if any of the associations had tried to use previously issued observer cards to gain access to polling stations.

One concern was the difficulty in spreading the word of the disqualifications to distant provinces, districts and communes.

Kong Srun, president of the provincial election commission in Battambang province, said he received information from the NEC at 2 pm Saturday to ban the first two groups and at 5:30 pm to ban the third group, Foffec.

That gave Kong Srun only a little more than 12 hours to get the word out.

Kong Srun’s officials notified all three organizations, who agreed to inform their members about the ban.

Provincial election officials also told commune election officials by radio that the members of the three organizations had the right to vote, but not observe.

At least one of the organizations put out a message on radio that its members couldn’t take part in poll monitoring.



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