On July 27, at the ripe old age of 70, Khieu Lei walked into a polling station in Svay Rieng province’s Svay Chrum district and cast her ballot. The only problem is, she probably doesn’t exist.
And even if there is a real Khieu Lei, she did not slide that particular vote into the ballot box; that honor apparently went to a 68-year-old woman using Khieu Lei’s name.
That 68-year-old is one of more than 100 people from around the country who have submitted 1018 voter identification forms to the SRP, which they claim are falsified.
Form 1018 is an identification document produced by the National Election Committee that commune chiefs issue to people that lack proper forms of ID. The form can then be used to register to vote and also as ID on election day.
In the aftermath of the July 27 election, the political opposition and election monitors have stated that there were irregularities, particularly concerning eligible voters being deleted from the voter list and ineligible voters reaching the ballot box using illegally issued 1018 forms.
To date, nobody has produced much beyond anecdotal evidence that there was an effort to delete voters—opposition or otherwise—from the voter rolls. But the SRP says that evidence is now starting to surface that commune council chiefs, 98 percent of whom are from the CPP, were illegally issuing 1018 forms containing false information.
The SRP is even paying a bounty of $50 for every falsified form that is handed in to their party.
Reporters on Wednesday and Thursday reviewed several of the more than 100 falsified 1018 forms, which the SRP has collected from at least half of the country’s 24 provinces and municipalities.
In the case of Khieu Lei, aka the 68-year-old woman, her 1018 form bears an officially stamped identity photo, the signature of her commune chief, his official stamp and thumbprints of witnesses.
To verify that the information on the form is false, the SRP made a copy of the 68-year-old’s national ID card, which reveals that her name and age are totally different from what is on the 1018 form bearing the name Khieu Lai.
They also had the woman fingerprint a separate form to show that her fingerprint is identical to the one on the national ID card, but different from the one Khieu Lei’s 1018 form.
At least two sets of forms in the possession of the SRP show that the documents, including the signature of the commune chief, had apparently been filled in ahead of time and then photocopied.
Some personal information was then filled in, and in one case ink of a different color pen was used to fill in a non-photocopied portions.
In another pair of 1018 forms from Kandal province the holder’s birthplaces had been pre-filled in, while others appear to have been pre-stamped and then had a photo applied later.
In another instance from Takeo province’s Traing district, a young voter’s photo had been used on a 1018 form for the 2007 commune election putting his name as Vem Rem and his birth year as 1982. The same photo of the same young man also appears on a second 1018 form for the July 27 election, but this time he is named Ngov Pherak and has become eight years younger.
A 15-year-old girl from Phnom Penh interviewed at SRP headquarters Wednesday had a 1018 form stating that she was 19 and eligible to vote. In the interview, the teenager claimed that her father is a group chief in Takeo province’s Prey Kabbas district, and when she visited him on election day he gave her a falsified 1018 form. Her new voting name was Mao Srey Pich on the 1018 form handed in to the SRP.
Coming to collecting his $50 reward on Thursday for handing in his falsified 1018, Kev Sokhom, 65, of Kompong Speu’s Samraong district, showed his 1018 form issued under the name of Phai Khom, 58. His national ID card, however, showed his actual name as Kev Sokhom.
Kev Sokhom said that he had tried to register to vote just a month before the election and gave his ID card to his village’s deputy chief-a CPP member-to have the paperwork taken care of. When the deputy village chief returned, he gave Kev Sokhom the 1018 form with the new name and age, but he said that he didn’t use the form to vote.
“It’s not my name, I didn’t want to vote [using it],” he said. “It’s just wrong and against my conscience.”
A 23-year-old woman from Kompong Chhnang province who also turned over a falsified 1018 on Thursday at SRP headquarters, said that she had wanted to vote under her own name, but commune officials never dealt with her registration paperwork.
She said that on the eve of the election she came back from the rice fields and her mother told her that the village chief had brought a 1018 form, complete with stamped photo, over to her house earlier in the day. She said that the photo of her on the form was one that had been taken by the village chief months earlier during a function at the village chief’s house.
In all three of the above cases the people interviewed said that those who gave them the 1018 forms never told them which party to vote for. Two of the three said they voted on July 27.
The SRP had submitted a number of the forms to the National Election Committee along with a complaint against the general election result.
Their complaint, however, was rejected without a hearing, as the NEC claimed that it did not have competence over the 1018 forms.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said in an interview Thursday that even though the NEC produced the 1018 forms they had no responsibility over what the commune chiefs did with them, making instances of falsification a matter now for the Interior Ministry and the courts.
When asked whether the NEC would take action to nullify the results of the election in a given commune if it was shown that the commune chief had issued falsified forms, Tep Nytha said that taking such action would depend on circumstances.
“If, regarding this issue, there are many, say 100 [falsified forms] then the election result must be reconsidered, but if it is just 10 or 20 it won’t effect the overall election result” and therefore the results would stand, he said.
Tep Nytha added that a single falsified form from a single commune is not necessarily evidence of malfeasance significant enough to swing the vote in the commune.
“There are two ways one can look at this: Maybe if there is one letter there are more, but maybe there is one and that is it,” he said. He added that according to the law, even though the forms were issued at the commune level, only the polling station where the fraudulent voter cast their ballot would be investigated. Only if several polling stations in a commune had significant irregularities would the commune result be questioned.
Tep Nytha also said that the NEC does not keep any record of how many 1018 forms are used by voters in the election, leaving all such reckoning to the commune chiefs-the very people that might be improperly issuing them in the first place.
“If they did this illegally, they won’t let us know,” Tep Nytha said.
When asked if a single form at least merits an investigation because it could show intent to commit election fraud by the commune chief, Tep Nytha said there would only be an investigation if a complaint was filed.
If the NEC, however, came upon evidence of voter fraud in the absence of a complaint, it would not act on that evidence, Tep Nytha said, but only keep it as a reference to improve future election performance.
“If it’s real [evidence] and there is no complaint, we will keep it as a reference for the next election and reevaluate whether to use 1018 forms next time,” he said, “but we would not invalidate the commune.”
Tep Nytha also detailed the mire of technicalities that make it difficult to complain and difficult for his own organization to investigate irregularities.
With the unofficial election results announced Saturday, the deadline for complaints has already passed, so any newly unearthed evidence of voter fraud cannot be reviewed by the NEC, he said.
In addition, any complaint filed before that 72-hour deadline following the release of the unofficial results, must be resolved within 48 hours.
Meaning that even if a large amount of evidence is handed to the NEC it still has to investigate and rule on the issue in just two days.
Regardless, Tep Nytha admitted that the NEC has had problems with 1018 forms and is considering ways to eliminate them.
He said that the form’s main purpose is to give a form of identification to young people that are just reaching voting age, but have not yet been issued a national ID card. He said that the Interior Ministry is considering issuing the cards to people when they turn 15, rather than when they hit the voting age of 18, as a way to remedy this issue.
Koul Panha, executive director of the election monitoring NGO Comfrel, said in an interview Thursday that the issue of 1018 forms is a serious one that reflects problem of relying on partisan commune officials to handle important election matters.
He added that the evidence that he has seen regarding falsified forms merits an investigation by the NEC regardless of the impact on the election results.
“It’s not just an issue of the outcome, it’s an issue of accountability,” Koul Panha said. “[The NEC] must do something or how will political parties trust them?”
The NEC’s rejection of the SRP’s complaint on Tuesday showed that the NEC was “not serious” about looking into political parties complaints regarding 1018 forms. He added that it was improper for the NEC to shirk responsibility for the forms, which are issued in the name of the election body.
SRP President Sam Rainsy said in an interview Thursday that he believes that the amount of evidence they have collected regarding the issuing of illegal 1018 forms represents just the “tip of the iceberg” of a nationwide coordinated effort to rig the election.
“We have received this from all over the country and it shows that it was done in a systematic, measured manner-a professional manner, in the worst sense of the word,” he said. “This is election fraud on the national level.”
Sam Rainsy said that he believes that the ruling CPP actually went overboard in attempting to secure a crushing victory in the poll, getting sloppy as a result.
“They wanted so much a landslide victory that they overshot their target and got imprudent, and so there are leaks” of these 1018 forms, he said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said by telephone Thursday that the SRP is merely complaining about the identification forms because they lost the election. “These are allegations,” he said. “There were fewer cases of 1018 form irregularities than would affect the election result.”
He added that any commune officials that did issue fraudulent forms would be punished if there was enough evidence against them.
Koul Panha said that it was uncertain whether the troubles with the 1018 forms had a significant impact on the election, or whether it was a “systematic problem or a sporadic one,” but that Comfrel will be investigating the matter.
He added that regardless, the use of the forms should be discontinued.
“This identification document is powerful: with it you can vote. In many countries you could never use a form like this,” he said. “We should not use it in the future.”