Voters in at least two provinces said Tuesday that local government officials are going door to door asking people to fill in and vote for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP on “practice” ballot papers, which they claim is training for the July 28 national election.
Election monitors and opposition lawmakers said the action of the local officials amounts to coercion and is also a violation of the election law, which is supposed to ensure that government officials, most of whom are ruling party members, remain neutral. A National Election Committee (NEC) official disagreed, saying the practice amounted to nothing more than voter training.
One woman in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district said a Siem Reap commune official had accompanied a group of CPP activists who went from house to house last week with the so-called practice ballots papers to instruct people how to cast their vote for the ruling party.
Instead of letting residents tick off any one of the eight political parties listed on the practice ballot paper, the ruling party activists and commune official instructed the woman to place her mark next to box number four, for the CPP.
“The ballot had all the party logos on it from one to eight and they told me to tick number four, with the devada [CPP] logo. Then they took [the ballot paper] back when I ticked on it,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by the same local official.
“Before I ticked the ballot, I wondered and asked them why they were asking me to tick on number four. They said just to tick it,” she said. “We ticked it because we are worried about our security if we refuse.”
A man in Svay Rieng province’s Svay Chrum district, who also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal by local authorities, said he experienced the same treatment with the practice ballot paper. He said the deputy chief of his village, in Kok Pring commune, went door to door with a group of CPP activists on Friday instructing people to fill in the ballot papers, which were also taken away after completion.
“They brought a ballot with all the [party] logos on it, but the CPP devada logo could be seen clearly and the other logos were blurred. When they got to each villager’s house they said to tick on number four, then they took [the ballot paper] back,” he said.
“My wife and my daughter ticked the ballot but I refused to tick it because I know how to tick for voting and it is pressure when they say to tick on number four.”
A second woman in Svay Rieng province’s Romeas Hek district said authorities even called groups of locals to the Koki commune office last week and instructed them to fill in spot number four on practice ballot papers, a claim confirmed by the CPP commune chief who organized the event.
Kok Pring commune chief Tep Sormony said she had 1,000 practice ballots for training purposes with prospective voters, but she denied the claim that the people at the event were told to place their marks by a particular party, or that local officials were teaming up with ruling party activists.
“We have given villagers example ballots to practice ticking but we didn’t tell them which party they should tick because it’s their right” to choose, she said. “It is not cheating or pressuring the villagers because when they go to vote at the polling stations we don’t know which party they vote for,” she said.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said there was nothing wrong with local government officials accompanying party activists on these supposed voter training runs—so long as they did so on their time off.
Mr. Nytha also said he saw nothing wrong with the filling in of the practice ballot papers that people had complained of Tuesday.
“I don’t know how it puts pressure on people,” he said. “They go to attract supporters and show people the right way to tick the ballot.”
“It is wrong if local officials go along with political party members and urge villagers to tick the ballot. But it is fine if they take the day off and they go like a common person,” he said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), disagreed with that assessment.
The danger with “practice” voting, he said, was that such events put pressure on people to actually vote for the CPP come election day, especially if local officials are involved, which is a violation of the election law.
“If [party activists] engage with the village chief, that’s a problem because they should be neutral,” Mr. Panha said. “The election law says they [local officials] should be neutral, and it creates influence on the voters…because the [village] chiefs mostly belong to the CPP and they watch the voting.”
“Village chiefs have a lot of influence,” he added. “That creates some problems and makes people afraid.”
Mr. Panha said Comfrel has received several complaints from worried voters across the country, from Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Siem Reap provinces especially, who had also filled in the practice ballots.
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