Thursday, August 1, 2013

Analysis: Were the Cambodian elections fixed?

By Aug 01, 2013
In what is now a contested election, the preliminary results announced Sunday night after the vote are attributing 68 seats to the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and 55 to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

On Wednesday morning, The Cambodia Daily published an article in which it stated the opposition party issued its own results Tuesday night, claiming at least 63 seats using the calculations based on the National Election Committee forms tallying the votes out of each polling station. This would give them the majority at the National Assembly and lead Sam Rainsy and Khem Sokha to rule Cambodia.

In a press release published on the same day, the New-York based organisation Human Rights Watch states that the ruling party orchestrated vote fraud, saying a senior official voted in multiple constituencies and used the police to threaten villagers. A couple of day before the elections, Brad Adams, the Asia director for the organization, stated that  “what should result in the will of the people has been organized to result in the will of the Cambodian People’s Party.”
cc Oudom Tat/31 July 2013 - Prime Minister Hun Sen on a tour of an overpass construction site at Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey commune, in Meanchey district. It was In his first public appearance since Sunday’s national election
Later that day, long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen declared he was open to holding talks with opposition leader Sam Rainsy and an investigation into alleged irregularities at the polls. The CNRP has not yet publicly responded to this statement.

Intentional irregularities?
According to an expert on Cambodian politics who wished to remain anonymous, “certainly there are going to be some low-level incidents across some 14,000 villages. The question is whether they were systematic, and intentional”.

Back in February, the 2013 Cambodia Voter Registry Audit put together by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Cambodia’s Center for Advanced Studies, and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, urged the National Election Committee to make the registration list available to accept international monitors at polling stations. However, Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee, told the  Phnom Penh Post that there is little likelihood of implementing the recommendations.

“I know from experience that flaws in the voter lists are not resulting only from technical difficulties. It is no involuntary action,” confides a long-time observer of the electoral process in Cambodia, who has worked with the NEC and on the voter registration issues during past elections.

“Voter registration lists have always been a consistent problem since the UNTAC elections, which Cambodian authorities have shown no political will to seriously tackle despite decades on international assistance. This is not a problem of capacity or competency,” he continues.

A month before the elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that CNRP seats would be reallocated to other parties if the opposition were not to recognize the results. This was echoed by Tep Nytha, the NEC General Secretary.
cc Oudom Tat/31 July 2013. Motos of security guards around the Stung Meanchey Pagod in Phnom Penh, Meanchey district. It was the first appearance of Prime Minister Hun Sen after Sunday's elections.
The election was recognized by “international observers”
On Monday morning, a delegation invited by the national election committee (NEC) declared that the elections were “a triumph of popular will and a victory for the Cambodian people” after they visited “a dozen polling stations, some pre-arranged, some randomly”. Observers from China, South Korea and Hungary said that Sunday’s general election was conducted in a competitive, free, fair and transparent manner.
“The overall election environment was calm, peaceful and non-violent,” said a statement by a Chinese observer team released late Monday. “Despite some complaints, we did not observe any incidents that might have adversely affected the process or the results of the elections.” The Chinese delegation was led by Zhao Shi-tong, deputy director of Bureau No. 2 of the Communist Party of China’s International Department. A day after, Thailand congratulated Hun Sen for the CPP  ”victory”.
Talking to the press on Tuesday, Ouch Borith, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that  the opposition party should therefore recognize the truth “as tens of thousands of national observers and hundreds of foreign monitors have accepted that the election was conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner”. However, the European Union did not send any observer this year, tired of not seeing its recommendations taken into account in the past.
But what seems to be a CPP victory is in reality a loss of at least 22 seats. Together with the “serious irregularities” and accusations formulated against the CPP, its power will be undermined in the next National Assembly. From the inside, and according to the expert in Cambodian politics, “there is little that binds the CPP aside from shared self-interest and patronage. If the party wishes to seriously address the top issues that threaten its rule, corruption, it undermines the glue that holds it together”.  Within the CPP, there are internal factions and some have now a greater leverage than before “as they now can subtly threaten to defect to an informal coalition with the opposition unless their demands are met internally,” he explains.

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