The ruling Cambodian People's Party did even better than its
own predictions in July's election, and monitors said in
recent interviews it had done so by exploiting the election process and a
position of advantage rather than an outright theft of votes.
The CPP dominated the polls in July, winning 90 of 123
National Assembly seats, more than enough to enact legislation, quorum and
amend the constitution.
The opposition Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties have
accused CPP of stealing votes, but two top monitors said last week that the CPP
was able to earn a high number of seats through myriad factors much more
These included loopholes in the election law, the deletion
of voter names from registries, the abuse of administrative forms, widespread
use of state assets and local authorities and the help of broadcast media,
according to Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, and Hang Puthea,
executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair
Elections in Cambodia.
Koul Panha pointed out that the election law didn't
stipulate a budget limit for campaigning, giving the CPP another advantage.
"A lot of upper-hand factors" have not been
investigated, he said, "such as money and materials, giving out money to
voters, support from local officials who knew which groups of people would vote
for what party, messy voter lists and irregularities."
"The loopholes in the law and management of the
election did not guarantee a fair election," he added.
The CPP also leveraged other advantages, such as a
widespread political organization, the construction of infrastructure and a
pre-election row with Thailand
over Preah Vihear temple, both monitors said. Broadcasts on television and
radio amplified these factors, they said.
"The CPP used the media to propagate its achievements
and attract voters," Koul Panha said.
Commune and village chiefs were also a decisive factor this year,
Hang Puthea said.
These authorities were able to exercise pressure on voters
through a local ballot count, a new procedure this year that allowed them to
identify opposition supporters, Hang Puthea said.
Local officials were able to instill bias by warning voters
that the CPP would need to win in order for a community to have peace and security, he
Though many of the winning factors did not meet
international standards for a fair and free election, both monitors said, the
CPP also had legitimate reasons for winning seats.
These included economic
achievements of the party, its grassroots political networks, powerful
officials that solved some crises ahead of the election, and the party's
ability to lure supporters away from its rivals.
National Election Committee Chairman Im Suosdey denied the
CPP had unfair advantages in the election.
NEC officials followed election law without giving advantages to the CPP, he said, including in the recruitment of officials, the
ballot count and throughout the complaints procedure.
Critics argue the NEC is dominated by a majority of
CPP-appointed officials, and opposition leader Sam Rainsy said during hearings
last week the Constitutional Council, which arbitrates appeals
beyond the NEC, followed the CPP line as well.
"I don't think the election made any party gain the
upper-hand over other parties," Im Sousdey said. "You claimed alleged
upper-hand factors only after the election results had come out. It is not
true. The NEC only abides by the law and doesn't want to give anyone the upper-hand."
Amendments to the election law will have to be done
democratically, through legislation passed by the National Assembly, he said,
and not through "groundless allegations" made by the losers of an election.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, however, said a biased NEC colluded
with the ruling party to help it win, by allowing the use of state property and
media in the election and not enacting a election finance law.
"The NEC is not independent," Son Chhay said.
"It was created to help steal votes for the CPP. There is no neutral
institution to file complaints with about the theft of votes. Going to the NEC, it is
a puppet of the CPP. Going to Constitutional Council, it is the ruling party's
CPP lawmaker Chiem Yeap, who is also a member of the CPP's
central committee, said the party had won its 90 seats legitimately.
Voters showed their gratitude to a party that liberated
them from the Khmer Rouge, built peace, rebuilt the nation and its
infrastructure and reduced poverty, he said.
"Let me ask you, where can a vote be stolen?"
Chiem Yeap said. "The Sam Rainsy Party had agents who signed the proper
electoral process report and party agents of all parties signed this to accept
the election results."
The 90-seat win was a surprise, he said, but signaled a
trend that could go on in the next commune elections and beyond. The party was
looking for 84 or 85 seats this year, but it could win as many as 100 seats in
the next general election, he said.
"As soon as I heard the NEC announcement of the
unofficial result," he said, "tears of emotion came out of my