The chairman of the National Election Committee’s commission on fraud appeared to have resigned amid squabbles over procedures Tuesday as election officials began a recount of ballots from three Takeo communes.
The Takeo recounts are expected to be finished today and other communes in Kompong Cham, Kompong Speu and Kampot may also be recounted this week, officials said.
A frustrated NEC Vice Chairman Kassie Neou complained Tuesday that his fellow electoral officials appeared to be stalling investigations into fraud complaints. Others said the problem was the lack of a legal procedure for recounting.
Kassie Noeu said that the NEC’s Election Results Control Commission, which he chairs, had met Tuesday and ordered ballot bags from five more communes to be recounted.
“Ok Bong, director of the operations department, refused to open the door for us to take the ballot bags for counting,” he said early Tuesday afternoon. “You ask him why. All I know is that he refused an order from above.”
It was the first time an official has spoken out about the long-rumored divisions within the NEC over how quickly to respond to concerns over potential fraud.
Later Tuesday, Kassie Neou walked out of an NEC board meeting apparently called to resolve the dispute. “They are still stalling,” he fumed. “Why are they stalling? I ask myself that too.”
Overhead talking about resigning the commission, Kassie Neou denied he would. “No, no. That was just a joke.”
Later Tuesday evening, however, he told Agence France-Presse that he resigned from the results commission but would remain the NEC vice chairman.
NEC Secretary-General Im Suorsdei downplayed the squabble, saying the problem was that there was no procedure yet to decide which of the nearly 1,000 complaints pending should be taken seriously enough to order a recount.
“Everything is resolved now,” Im Suorsdei said. “No one understood the procedure.”
The meeting on Tuesday determined that a subcommittee for legal services, headed by NEC member Tip Jahnvibol, would weed through the complaints and recommend to the Results Commission which ones to act on.
Im Suorsdei, a former Ministry of Interior elections expert who is now the NEC’s top administrator, added that Ok Bong probably refused the ad hoc commission’s order because it also broke with the normal chain of command.
“Ok Bong normally doesn’t take directions from the NEC members. He is under my capacity….Everything goes through the secretariat,” he said, adding that he himself takes his orders from the NEC board.
Shaking his head, Im Suorsdei admitted that the NEC, rushed to pull together the July 26 elections in only seven months, had neglected to draft the necessary framework for the post-election period.
“Many people, even my wife, criticize me. They ask, ‘Why are you so late with this work?’ They don’t understand….We need time for these things.”
Samraing Kamsan, spokesman for NEC Chairman Chheng Phon, said Tuesday the ad hoc committee plans to recount more communes this week from Kompong Speu, Kompong Cham and Kampot.
Tuesday morning, international and national observers, and party agents watched as officials broke the seals on the ballot bags from Sophi, Prambei Mom and Srae Ronoung communes.
More than eight hours later, they were still counting. The original commune counting centers had six or more tables for faster tallies, but Tuesday’s recount had only one table for the whole commune, making the process slower.
International observers present said they saw no clear signs that the ballots or results had been tampered with.
The ballots were locked up overnight at NEC headquarters with a seal placed on the door signed by party agents and observers.
They are scheduled to reconvene the recount this morning.