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Election Ink Poor Quality, Monitors Say

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures with an inked finger after casting his ballot in local elections at Ta Khmau town, in Kandal province, some 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, June 3, 2012.

Election monitors say they are concerned about poor-quality ink being used by the National Election Committee to ensure people do not vote more than once on Sunday.

Voters typically have their index finger dipped in ink after they have voted, a measure to ensure they don’t vote more than once and skew the results. But election monitors who tested the ink on Friday say it is easy to wash off and thereby not useful for its purpose.

Koul Panha, executive director of the election monitoring group Comfrel, told VOA Khmer that his staff had tested the ink late Friday and found it easy to wash off. They have alerted the NEC to their concerns, he said.

The ink allegations add to worries that Election Day will not be free and fair for Cambodia’s more than 9 million registered voters.

Election monitors and rights groups have already pointed out numerous problems with the election so far: with registration, where numbers of registrations exceed the population of eligible voters, with voter IDs, with unequal media access by parties, with military, police and civil servants campaigning for the ruling party, with harassment of the opposition leading into the campaign and with the exclusion of opposition Sam Rainsy from running for office, among others.

Adding further to these worries, the NEC has now also banned the posting of voter registration lists at polling sites, taking away the ability of election monitors and other observers to check their authenticity.

“Add the voter list problem to the ink problem, and this is a concern,” Koul Panha told VOA Khmer.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said the ink was not washable, contrary to the finding of Comfrel. “This ink is an assured, comprehensive quality,” he said. He insisted that the elections will be free, fair and credible, and that it will be monitored by national and international observers alike.

In a statement Friday, Human Rights Watch said Sunday’s elections have already been marred by irregularities and were set up in favor of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“The National Election Committee has lacked credibility because of political bias since its creation in advance of the 1998 national election,” the group said in a statement. “The five members are nominated by the Interior Ministry, then approved by the Council of Ministers, chaired by Hun Sen, and finally by the CPP-controlled National Assembly.”

Hang Puthea, head of the election watchdog Nicfec, said the weak ink is a concern for the legitimacy of the elections.

“We worry about the one-vote principle, if opportunists use the removable ink to vote again and again,” he said. “We see double names, ghosts, and the issuance of many voter cards, which are irregularities.”