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Controversial win

Robert Carmichael
September 9, 2013

Cambodia's election committee has officially announced that the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen won the July 28 ballot. But the opposition rejects that and insists on an independent probe.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen shows his ink-stained finger after casting a vote in the general elections at a polling station in Kandal province July 28, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Image: Reuters

The National Election Committee (NEC) said on September 8 that final results showed the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won 68 seats in parliament, a loss of 22 seats compared with the previous mandate. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) took 55 seats. Each party garnered almost 50 percent of the vote.

While the CPP, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen (main picture), promptly released a statement accepting the outcome, the opposition rejected it. The CNRP has long maintained that it won 63 of the 123 seats on offer, thus winning the election outright.

The opposition continues to demand an independent investigation into the July elections, which it claims were rigged by the CPP and NEC. Hours after the official poll results were announced, the CNRP reiterated that position, threatening to hold demonstrations in the coming days.

Hardened positions

Opposition MP Mu Sochua, who described the election as "totally tainted", said the NEC's announcement had set "democracy in Cambodia way back again".

"This time there will be three days of protests [in Phnom Penh] starting from next Sunday, which is the 15th, until the 17th," she said, adding that "there will be a series of protests that will go on until there is a solution that is acceptable to the voters."

A supporter of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) shouts during a rally in Phnom Penh September 7, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
The opposition continues to demand an independent investigation into the July elections, which it claims were riggedImage: Reuters

The opposition has also threatened to boycott the opening of parliament, which is scheduled for later this month. Some observers believe that a boycott could delay the formation of the new government, as there will not be enough MPs present to form a quorum.

In response, Prime Minister Hun Sen said his party would in that event redistribute the CNRP's seats among members of the ruling party.

Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said such an act would not only be illegal, but would make Cambodia "a laughing stock" in the eyes of the world.

"In the parliamentary election law, seats can be reapportioned to other parties [only] when the party has relinquished those seats" he said, adding that if the CPP were to go ahead with that "the new regime would be a dictatorship."

Credibility Crisis

At the centre of the multitude of controversies surrounding the election stands the NEC, whose role is to manage the electoral process. The NEC is widely seen as beholden to the ruling party, and its credibility, which was hardly strong before the poll, has taken a further battering.

A coalition of nearly 20 election-monitoring groups and rights organizations recently concluded that the array of flaws meant the ballot was "not yet free and not yet fair." Among the litany of failures – whether accidental or deliberate – was a voters' roll that was missing the names of one million genuine voters while at the same time it was filled with a million ghost voters, according to a study published by the National Democratic Institute, a US non-profit organization. Together that amounted to around 20 percent of the 9.6 million names on the list.

Ballot boxes are emptied in a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 28 July 2013.(Photo: EPA)
Poll monitors concluded that an array of flaws in the election meant the ballot was 'not yet free and not yet fair'Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Furthermore, the voters' list allegedly contained 300,000 duplicate names, election-monitoring groups said, and in addition more than one million temporary ID cards are reported to have been handed out around the country, potentially allowing non-citizens or minors to vote. The indelible ink – used to mark voters' fingers, and thereby to prevent people from voting more than once – was, in some areas at least, easily removed.

Moreover, both the NEC and the court of final appeal, known as the Constitutional Council, which is also regarded as being under CPP influence, rejected nearly all of the opposition's filings during the post-election complaints process, which concluded last week.

Along with the problems of missing, duplicate and ghost names on the voters' roll, the coalition also highlighted the ruling party's near total control of media to promote its message. It also said it had uncovered instances of vote-buying by the CPP. Among its recommendations are root-and-branch reforms of the NEC and the Constitutional Council, as well as a new voter list.

'We are very concerned'

All of those solutions, however, lie some way off. More immediately, the two parties will have to meet and resolve their differences. However, there is no sign of that happening, as yet.

But with the potential for violence unsettling many citizens, the poll monitors called upon the leaders of the CPP and the CNRP to engage in talks. "[We are] very concerned that the failure to solve the problem in a peaceful manner may lead to social turmoil and then [a] political, economic and social crisis that [will] seriously affect [the] livelihood of the people, social development, reputation and dignity of the nation," the coalition said in a joint statement.

Although CPP spokespersons were not available to discuss their party's position, the CNRP's Mu Sochua told DW the opposition was "very willing to sit and have a dialogue with the top leaders of the CPP in order to find a solution that is acceptable for all." That process must begin with an agreement to establish an independent committee, she explained, adding that if such a body found that the opposition did lose the poll, "we will accept the result."

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