Election Irregularities Affect Voters’ Willingness to Vote: COMFREL

On Dec. 19, the NEC met with COMFREL to discuss the outcomes of a report it released in September, in which the committee stressed the several challenges and issues that occurred during the 5th commune elections. Photo: National Election Committee

PHNOM PENH – The National Election Committee (NEC) says the communal election’s irregularities found by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) did not influence the result of the vote that took place in June 2022.

On Dec. 19, the NEC met with COMFREL to discuss the outcomes of a report it released in September, in which the committee stressed the several challenges and issues that occurred during the 5th commune elections.

Som Sorida, NEC’s deputy secretary-general said the NEC accepted the report and reviewed any points related to the competence of the NEC within the scope of its work.

He pointed out that the irregularities found by COMFREL were just technical errors in the conduct of polling station officials and counting ballots.

“But they were not irregularities that seriously affected the results of the election,” said Sorida.

COMFREL reported several irregularities during the ballot paper counting process. Election observers were not allowed to observe inside some polling stations and some of them were prevented from taking photos of the ballot counting process. In addition, some polling station electoral officers did not post the minute of ballot counting or did not fill out the information about the result of the ballot.

Some polling stations even closed their doors and windows during the counting process, which was qualified as a “lack [of] transparency” in the counting process, the report read.

The NEC reasoned that only those who have the right to be inside the polling station – polling station officials, political party agents, observers, special guests and journalists – were allowed to be in, as defined by article 30 of the Law on Commune / Sangkat Council Election.

“Therefore, the closure of the polling station is not an anomaly,” the NEC said.

COMFREL also stressed that the majority of irregularities occurred during the political party candidate registration phase, preventing the Candlelight Party to validate lists in 26 communes where it was previously registered.

“The Candlelight Party had registered candidates competing only in 1,623 communes out of 1,649 communes for which the Party had registered,” noted the report.

Most of the issues in the list registration process were caused by candidates being withdrawn from the lists or by people who didn’t know they were added to the list and later complained about it.

“These complaints aimed at removing candidacy from the registered candidate lists and at removing the political party candidate lists from the commune,” said COMFREL.

“Meanwhile, some complaints were filed by competent authorities to the court over the allegation of document forgery,” the report read, pointing to the case of a list in Pursat province that was rejected because two members of the list were charged with “falsification of public document.”

In regards to the issue of candidates being removed from the list, NEC clarified that in the first stage of legal candidate registration, political parties are required to submit two candidates for every council seat in a given commune.

In case of an insufficient number of candidates, the list of that political party is rejected. However, in case the list has all the candidates and has been approved to register, the list must be posted as the first list of candidates.

“If there is a complaint from the people about the first list of candidates, any candidate who does not meet the requirements of the law shall be removed from the list of first candidates, that is, the entire list of candidates will not be rejected,” NEC said.

Korn Savang, a senior official with COMFREL, said these irregularities might be directly in the scope of the NEC’s work. But the institution should also facilitate and observe the actions of other relevant institutions, such as the armed forces or the court.

“They should observe whether or not their activities affect the free and fair process of the election,” he said. “The irregularities indirectly affect the willingness and the decision of the citizens.”

Savang stated that both COMFREL and the NEC are independent institutions not in favor of any political party.

NEC shall ensure a fair and transparent election process, while COMFREL work is to detect the problems and irregularities to ensure a fair result and expose the working gap of NEC.

“NEC shall conduct their work independently without tendency,” he said.

COMFREL, Savang said, has yet to decide the extent of the organization’s participation in the upcoming national election that will be held in July 2023, but he will continue to monitor the situation.

The 5th mandate communal election took place on June 5, 2022, with 17 parties running to elect 11,622 council members in 1652 communes across the country.

According to the NEC, 7.3 million votes were cast, from a total of 9.2 million eligible voters, amounting to 79.35 percent.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party claimed the most seats.


Related Articles