Missing names and ghost voters: Cambodia’s opposition cries foul

 
Imagine turning up to vote in your country’s general election, and finding someone else has voted in your place. Then imagine discovering you cannot make an official complaint, because the polling station will not give you a complaint form. According to human rights groups, this was a familiar scenario across Cambodia during Sunday’s vote.
 
Transparency International claims voters found their names were not on the lists at 60% of polling stations, while at 26% of stations people without valid identification were allowed to vote.
 
At one polling station in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district, would-be voters whose names were not on the list clashed with security forces and election officials.
 
Video showing would-be voters appearing to set police cars on fire outside Stung Meanchey’s polling station in Phnom Penh. Posted on Facebook by Tae Mini.
 
Early results released by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), which has ruled the country since 1985, gave them a narrow victory. But the biggest opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has rejected the results and called for an inquiry into alleged errors on the electoral roll.  The CPP has also been accused of pre-election voter intimidation.
 
The CNRP gained significant momentum when the Sam Rainsy party, with its leader in exile, and the Human Rights Party joined forces, posing a significant challenge to the CPP. 
Contributors

"This is the first time people were confident the opposition could win"

Koul Panha is the Executive Director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel).
 
We had 8,000 observers, who went to about 40% of polling stations across the country. There was something really wrong with this vote. We saw big problems with the voter lists, which are organised by local officials from the National Election Committee (NEC). This is not a transparent organisation: it only listens to the ruling party. Every opposition political party accuses the NEC of not being fair.
 
People are frustrated because even though irregularities are not new to Cambodian elections, this vote is the first time the public, especially young people, is really motivated about the elections, and people were confident the opposition could win. They really wanted to vote, so when they found their names were not on the list, they got really frustrated. That’s what happened at Stung Meanchey. [Editor’s note: According to Transparency International, voter turnout was 69%].
 
Screenshot of video of Stung Meanchey polling station in Phnom Penh. Video posted on Facebook by Tai Mini.
 
Many Comfrel observers met people who could not vote, they also saw inflated lists, where one person’s name appeared more than once, and which included names of people who don’t exist: ghost voters. So some people had two names and could vote twice, while some people couldn’t vote at all. The NEC is supposed to offer official complaint forms to people who weren’t able to vote, but none of our observers saw these forms.
 
There were even young people who were standing by at the polling station to observe the vote and the vote counting, to make sure they were fair.
 
Screenshot of video of Stung Meanchey polling station in Phnom Penh. Video posted on Facebook by Tai Mini.
 
We’ve asked the NEC to disclose the documents which show the voter lists, so we can see where people voted more than once, and whose names were not on the list. We need this information to determine the credibility of the elections, but the NEC has not disclosed this information yet.
 
The ruling party also used temporary identification cards (ICE) as a way to get votes. Everyone needs an ID card to vote, and those who don’t have them must apply to the ruling party for an ICE. They gave ICEs to people who were not eligible to vote, such as underage citizens and non-Cambodians, so they can then pressure them to vote for the CPP [Editor’s note: Transparency International says ICEs were used in 93% of polling stations].
 
 

This article was written with France 24 journalist Claire Williams (@clairewf24)

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