Cambodia: Systematic irregularities raise doubts on election integrity
On 28 July Transparency International Cambodia deployed more than 900 people to 407 polling stations around the country to monitor the parliamentary elections. They reported significant problems with voting in both registration lists and who was approved to vote. Citizens were frustrated to find that their names were not on the voters list and this led to anger and chaos at some polling stations. While many voters were turned away, there was an unusually large number of people using temporary Identification Certificates for Electoral Purpose (ICEs) distributed by government officials, who were allowed to vote.
The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, which for the first time in 28 years came close to unseating the current government of the Cambodian People’s Party, has rejected the results and both the European Union and the Unites States have asked for an investigation.
So far, the National Election Commission has not responded to requests to publish detailed results and voter lists, nor has it explained why so many people were issued the temporary Identification Certificate for Electoral Purpose in the final run-up to the election. Transparency International Cambodia is calling for an independent investigation and a transparent tabulation of the election result and seat allocation.
Elections show the voices of the people have been heard, so they need to be demonstrably free and fair. When party finances and polling booths are open to scrutiny, there’s no chance for the corrupt to skew democracy with secret donations, vote buying or vote rigging. With laws guaranteeing access to information, the public can see where money comes from and hold leaders to account for where it ends up. That is why it is important that the Cambodian National Election Commission responds in a timely fashion to the requests to publish the voter lists and explain why so many people received temporary identification certificates.
Despite all the criticisms of the election, Transparency International Cambodia noted that this time there were fewer incidents of violence and also greater enthusiasm from the people, particularly young people, that voting could make a difference. And even amid allegations of rigged voter lists, for the first time in nearly three decades the Cambodian ruling party does not have the two-thirds majority in parliament to assemble a quorum and pass any law it wants. It will need to work with the opposition party.
This enthusiasm from the people is one strong reason why the trappings of democracy should not be used to give those in power the veneer of legitimate authority, which is why it is important that all electoral irregularities are investigated.
– Kol Preap, Executive Director, Transparency International Cambodia
Kol Preap is the Executive Director of Transparency International Cambodia.
His organisation ran an extensive election monitoring operation. This is his assessment:
Q: How free and fair were the elections?
Preap: There were definitely irregularities. In 60 per cent of polling stations, citizens with proper identification were unable to vote and almost 11 per cent of eligible citizens couldn’t find their names on the list. Some voters showed up to find that they had already ‘voted’. In 26 per cent of the polling stations, people were allowed to vote without valid identification.
The quality of the voter lists was the root cause of the problems and because it happened so systematically there has to be a connection to the duplicate names on the lists.
Q: What should happen now?
Preap: We want an independent election audit or a multi-stakeholder investigation. We want the National Election Commission (NEC) to provide the forms used on election day and the relevant documents including the special blue forms – known as ICEs – used to give temporary voter identifications. We need to see how many people voted twice. There should be an independent committee to investigate irregularities. It is also what the EU and the US State Department are asking for.
Q: What has been the response?
Preap: So far the NEC has not responded. The opposition party can also file a complaint with the Constitutional Council, the highest body for dealing with election-related disputes. But the Constitutional Council is dominated by people from the ruling party so the people will not trust it.
Q: What will happen in Cambodia now?
Preap: The disenfranchised people want justice. The mood is one of frustration. The race was so close people are questioning the results. There is a lack of trust. Even people who are supporting the ruling party don’t trust the elections. There was a systematic problem with the voting and this has made the people doubt the results.
Q: Will the ruling party listen to the people?
Preap: We don’t know. The only way to clear doubt is to have a transparent audit. What we care about is the integrity of the process. In the past elections there had been some voter fraud but this time it is much worse.
Q: What will happen next?
Preap: If the people are not satisfied, the opposition may call for a popular march at the end of August.