Parliamentarians Argue Vote-Count Locale

BLDP-Son Sann parliamentarian Kem Sokha said Tuesday that if votes are counted at the commune and village level, elections scheduled for July will not be free and fair.

Kem Sokha, speaking after the National Assembly session, said he supported a proposed amendment to the existing electoral law that would mandate votes being counted at the district level.

“If the voting is done at the district level, we can ensure for our people that they would vote in secret and vote in safety,” said Kem Sokha, the chairman of the Assembly’s human rights commission.

Debate is expected to continue today on the proposal to revise the way votes are to be counted. Fourteen Funcinpec Assembly members have submitted an amendment that would dictate that votes be counted at the district level. The current electoral law requires votes to be counted at the commune and village level.

Kem Sokha claimed there are fears in the countryside that CPP supporters could threaten violence against villagers who vote for other parties.

“People in rural areas, mostly members of opposition parties, are concerned about counting at the village and commune level because it is perceived that local authorities are controlled by the CPP,” Kem Sokha said. “They could know how many people in their village vote for opposition parties and then could harm them for that.”

Funcinpec parliamentarians Kann Man and Ahmad Yahya were among those who spoke in support of the proposed amendment Tuesday on the floor of the Assembly. Kann Man said voters must be assured of secrecy to be free from political intimidation.

Said Kann Man, “We propose changing the law and counting the votes at the district level to avoid political violence against voters and to maintain secrecy for the voters no matter what political party they vote for.”

Ahmad Yahya said the safety of voters could be in doubt if votes are counted at the village level.

“Counting at the district level can guarantee the safety of the voter because it would ensure that the vote is secret,” he said.

But an influential CPP parliamentarian, Chheap Yeap, said vote-counting at the village level is economically advantageous for the government and more efficient as well.

“Where do we get more money from to pay for the transport of the ballots and for the security to protect and observe them?” he asked, alluding to the 1993 polls when the ballots were counted at the provincial level.

There were widespread allegations in 1993 of tampering with the votes during the trans­port of the ballots from the polling stations to the counting units.

Another CPP Assembly member also favored voting down the proposal.

“This proposed amendment goes against the structure and mechanism of the NEC,” said Ek Sam Ol.

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