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Council Orders Discipline of Election Staff in Siem Reap

A Buddhist monk shouts as people gather to watch a burning military police car near a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 28, 2013.
A Buddhist monk shouts as people gather to watch a burning military police car near a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 28, 2013.
PHNOM PENH - The Constitutional Council on Thursday ordered the National Election Committee to discipline staff members at seven voting stations in Siem Reap province for irregularities in July’s national election.

The Council, which acts as the appeals body for election complaints, said in its decision that disciplinary action could include fines or prohibition from participation in future elections for NEC staff at the seven stations.

The decision was unclear as to who exactly should receive disciplinary action, but punishment could be issued for the chiefs of each station or for all of the staff members at each.

The Council also said it had found valid an opposition complaint that soldiers had been transported by state vehicles on Election Day.

Ker Sovanarath, a candidate for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in Siem Reap, said the irregularities were “intentional” and widespread amid the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“This did not happen only in Siem Reap,” she told VOA Khmer. “The troop transportation to vote happened also with working groups of the CPP” in Phnom and other provinces, she said.

Em Sophat, a member of the National Election Committee, acknowledged that local officials had made “mistakes,” but he said that transportation of troops occurred with soldiers who were based in those areas, which is why the NEC had found it lawful. That decision was overruled by the Council.

“We will abide by the decision of the Constitutional Council,” he said.

Hang Puthea, head of the election-monitoring group Nicfec, said the responsibility should fall on the NEC at senior levels for irregularities of its officials. “Punishing local officials at the level of polling stations without questioning them is not right,” he said.

The Constitutional Council is expected to review complaints from Kandal province on Friday. Official election results are expected from the NEC on Sunday.

Rescue Party officials told VOA Khmer on Thursday that the Council had not done enough to investigate allegations of widespread irregularities, fraud and misconduct that they say cost the opposition the election.

“We don’t recognize the results of the election, and we don’t recognize the decision of the Constitutional Council and the National Election Committee, which have made such political decisions,” Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said.

As many as 1.2 million potential voters were not able to cast their ballots, due to irregularities or a flawed process that “systematically steals” votes, he said. “So punishing a few people is not enough, because the election result affects millions of people’s lives all over the country.”

Cheam Yiep, a senior lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, told VOA Khmer on Thursday that the decisions of the National Election Committee and the Constitutional Council were undertaken according to the law and should be recognized.

“I would inform you that the CPP, if it knew how to commit fraud, indeed, it would make itself win 120 seats, leaving them only three seats,” he said, referring to the opposition.

He said the Rescue Party is provoking a demonstration to help them claim a victory that was not won through the polls. “This is the culture of losing, ever since the first, second, third and fourth terms of the National Assembly,” he said.

But Yim Sovann said the claims of irregularities are legitimate, and important.

“A technical error causing an airplane crash kills a few hundred people, but the fault of a technical error in an election is that it is going to make millions of people remain in poverty and die,” he said. “So we cannot accept it. We have to find justice for the people and the voters.”