Opposition Parties Unite Over Calls for Election Investigations, Electoral Reforms

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Vote counting at Chea Sim Boeng Keng Kang High School in Phnom Penh on June 5, 2022. (Tran Techseng/VOD)

A chorus of political parties are decrying the conduct of the June 5 commune election, with the Candlelight Party calling for reforms to the NEC to ensure a smoother process.

The Sunday election saw the ruling CPP sweep all but four commune chief positions across the country, according to preliminary results from the election body. Expectations were high that the Candlelight Party would challenge the CPP’s hold on local-level positions but that has so far failed to materialize.

Small parties have come out over the last two days and called out the intimidation of candidates, alleged election day irregularities and the NEC’s unwillingness to take their complaints seriously.

The Grassroots Democratic Party and Candlelight held separate press conferences on Tuesday and Monday, respectively.

Yang Saing Koma, vice president of the GDP, said the election was the “worst” in recent times, pointing to intimidation of their candidates and the presence of local authorities at polling centers and lack of access to the 1102 forms that registers the tallies for each station.

The party, which was formed in 2015, was collating all these alleged irregularities and wanted other parties to join together to push the NEC to address the election violations, he said.

“We appeal to all parties to cooperate and face the NEC, the government and especially, the Interior Ministry, over the roles of the authorities,” Saing Koma said.

The Candlelight Party on Monday came out with similar allegations, with party vice president Son Chhay saying NEC reform was needed to restore confidence in elections.

“There was a lot of improvement after the 2013 election when the two big parties agreed to reform the NEC. And in 2017, it was the first time in the history of Cambodia that the opposition accepted the result,” Chhay said. “In 2022, the CPP controls everything.”

“We have observed the NEC is not independent, this organization is very cozy with the ruling party and they are cooperating very well,” he said.

After the disputed election of 2013, the CPP and CNRP agreed to reform the nine-member NEC with four representatives picked by each party and one neutral member. Three CNRP-selected members resigned after the party was dissolved in 2017. They were replaced by a CPP-affiliated member and one each from Funcinpec and Cambodia Nationality Party — the latter two parties had just been allocated the CNRP’s National Assembly seats, which they failed to retain at the 2018 national election.

Chhay repeated allegations made by the GDP and added that the party had faced serious legal persecution.

Twenty-two Candlelight members had been summoned in the run up to the election, he said, and seven others had been arrested.

He said it was unclear if the NEC would take their complaints and evidence seriously but that the party did not plan to hold any demonstrations contesting the elections. 

The CNRP held mass demonstrations in the wake of the contested 2013 election leading to a violent crackdown on the protests in January 2014. The protests had melded with worker demonstrations for better wages in the streets of Phnom Penh.

Videos have been circulating on social media, especially Facebook, showing people noting down the names of people who were voting, closed doors and windows at polling stations, and local officials’ presence at polling centers. VOD has not verified the veracity of the videos.

Independent observer Comfrel said it had photographs from its observers of local officials, including village chiefs and commune chiefs, sitting outside polling stations in Phnom Penh. Its observers also reported people inside and outside polling centers noting down people who had voted and checked their names off voter lists.

“This creates fear in the voters,” said Korn Savang, coordinator at Comfrel. “The village chief knows all the people and also might know who they vote for.”

Kampucheaniyum, another CNRP-affiliated party, also raised red flags over alleged irregularities witnessed by their officials and observers, including lack of access to the counting procedures and the 1102 form.

Preliminary results from Sunday’s election show that Candlelight may win only four commune chief positions across the country, with invalid ballots outnumbering votes received by any of the 15 other parties in the fray.

At the Candlelight press conference, Chhay said the party would have to assess the losses, but that the party’s around 25% vote share suggested they were the opposition pole in the political arena. According to preliminary results, the party won around 22% of votes.

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