KOMPONG CHAM CITY – Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) vice president Kem Sokha said the opposition would accept nothing less than victory after casting his vote in the country’s national election here Sunday, citing problems with the ballot’s supposedly indelible ink and the official voter list.
After casting his ballot at the Teak Ksen primary school and holding up a freshly dabbed purple finger to a gaggle of eager journalists, Mr. Sokha said that a simple lemon juice solution could be used to rub off the ink.
“If the CNRP loses this election, we will not accept the results and we will ask the international community to intervene” and to not recognize the results either.
On Saturday, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) announced that its tests showed that the ink could be completely washed off with a common household item, though it did not reveal what that item was.
With 18 of the National Assembly’s 123 seats, the most of any province or municipality, Kompong Cham holds major weight in the election results.
The CPP also has deep roots here. Prime Minister Hun Sen was born in the province. His brother, Hun Neng, a CPP candidate here, is a former provincial governor. National Assembly President Heng Samrin and several other top ministers, all of them CPP, also call it home.
Yet the opposition has still managed to do well here in the past. The two former opposition parties that now make up the CNRP won a combined six seats during the last national election in 2008, its best showing outside of Phnom Penh.
On Sunday morning, Mr. Sokha said the newly unified opposition was expecting to double that number and win no fewer than 12 seats this time around. He dismissed Mr. Samrin’s prediction earlier in that day that the CPP would hold on to the 11 seats it won here in 2008.
“I don’t think the CPP will get 11 seats unless they cheat,” he said.
Mr. Samrin made his prediction after casting his own vote only a few blocks away and telling reporters that this year’s election results for the CPP were “better than last time.”
On Saturday, the National Election Committee was quick to insist that the ink would stick. Sok Chhin, head of the Provincial Election Committee in Kompong Cham, said the ink also stood up to more tests here Sunday and that the bottles just needed a good shake.
“We have to shake the bottle before dipping the finger,” he said. “People who say the ink can be washed off are not right, because we tested it this afternoon and the ink could not be removed.”
Provincial governor Lon Lim Khay, who also serves as CPP party chief for the province, dismissed doubts about the ink’s staying power as well. “It’s not true. They just say these things in advance so that when they lose the election they won’t recognize the results,” he said of the opposition.
As for Mr. Sokha’s claim that the CPP could only hold onto its 11 seats here by cheating, Mr. Lim Khay declined to comment.
But Neang Sovath, head of Comfrel in Kompong Cham, said his team tested the ink on seven voters across the province Sunday, including two in Kompong Cham City, and managed to wash it off with alcohol. “I saw it with my own eyes with three people in Prey Chhor district, and we found the ink could be washed off,” he said.
Mr. Sovath said the substandard ink was a concern but remained wary of predicting just how it might affect the election.
There were other problems at polling stations Sunday.
Comfrel’s Mr. Sovath said he had also taken a steady stream of calls from his team reporting that voters were being turned away because they either could not find their names on the lists outside of polling stations or because the government’s records did not match their identification cards.
Well ahead of the election, Comfrel had warned that more than 1 million Cambodians risked being disenfranchised because of major flaws with the voter list.
Ly Sivchhing was one.
The garment worker, 29, spent the afternoon driving home from Phnom Penh and made it to Tuol Thmar Junior High School just before the polls closed at 3 p.m. But even with help from poll workers, she could not find her name on the boards posted outside each classroom.
She voted here in 2008 and has not changed her permanent address.
“I am very upset because I couldn’t vote,” she said, walking away dejected and suspecting a conspiracy.
“I think they took my name off the list because the ruling party knows I don’t support the CPP,” she said as the afternoon rain arrived as if on cue and as polling staff started closing the classrooms to start counting ballots.
Still, Ms. Sivchhing said she was hopeful that the opposition CNRP would bring home a victory in the country’s fifth democratic election.
“I think the CNRP will win,” she said, before quickly adding, “if the CPP does not cheat.”