A back-and-forth battle for control of a commune council in Kompong Speu province ended Wednesday when the third tally of ballots gave the Sam Rainsy Party a 12-vote victory, handing the party its 14th commune.
The six-hour recount of 2,612 ballots from Svay Cho Choep commune was the first race to require verification at National Election Committee headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Earlier counts at the commune election committee and province election committee offices in Kompong Speu were disputed by first the Sam Rainsy Party and then by the CPP. There can be no more appeals of the decision, said NEC Deputy Secretary-General Huoy Sophorn.
Emboldened by the victory, Sam Rainsy Party members vowed to fight for more recounts in communes where they trailed by only a few votes.
“I think we could win 50 percent of the communes [where the Sam Rainsy Party has requested a recount],” said Sam Rainsy Party Senator Ou Bun Long. “Right now the NEC says they are investigating our requests. I don’t know what they are investigating.”
The victory came in one of at least 21 communes where the Sam Rainsy Party has demanded a recount.
NEC officials are expected to rule today on a Sam Rainsy Party request for a recount in the Phnom Penh commune of Tuol Svay Prey I, where party officials claim that at one polling station, 26 of the 28 ballots declared invalid were legal votes for Sam Rainsy.
Unofficial totals for the commune showed the CPP leading by 27 votes.
Sam Rainsy Party officials said they would stage a public demonstration today if the NEC does not grant a recount of ballots collected at four of the commune’s 12 polling stations.
“We see no need for a delay to take place,” said Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian. “The recount decision took so long and no one has really guaranteed the other votes are in their original form.”
Wednesday’s recount revealed just how subjective the ballot counting process can be.
Polling station manuals directed election officials to disqualify ballots that have marks in two or more boxes, since it would be impossible to know which party the voter wanted.
But at Wednesday’s recount, officials discarded ballots that had two marks in the same box, such as two parallel lines drawn next to each other. But even this rule was not evenly applied: An “X” was counted as a valid mark.
Some voters checked none of the parties, but placed their own check mark next to the printed check mark provided at the top of the ballot as an example of how to vote.
Elections officials in each commune had to decide what constituted a valid ballot. Local election officials in some provinces, especially Kratie, rejected more ballots than others, said Mark Stevens, deputy chief observer of the European Union election observation mission.
“The NEC directive was if the intent of the voter was clear it should be allowed to stand,” Stevens said. “They are just being overly pedantic and strict in some cases. The important thing is that they are consistent.”