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Election Observers Hesitant to Dub Vote Free and Fair

Election observers held a press conference on the situation of the post-election in Phnom Penh on June 5, 2017. (Hul Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)

Election observers have opted to wait until the official results are announced before commenting on the quality of the election process.

Election observers in Cambodia have declined to officially endorse the results of the commune elections despite saying that they received no complaints about the vote count.

Elections in Cambodia have historically been fiercely disputed by the opposition and observers alike, with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen routinely accused of rigging the vote.

Yong Kim Eng, executive director of the People Center for Development and Peace, told reporters on Monday that the vote was largely conducted according to procedure.

He added that there were some reports of irregularities, particularly with regards the delayed announcement of results by the National Election Committee (NEC).

He added that there were some “mistakes” in how the results were distributed or posted at some polling stations.

Koul Panha, speaking at the same press conference, said it was important for election monitors now to look at regions where there were reports of irregularities. “We want to know how many mistakes there were and if those mistakes derived from technical problems or if they were intentional,” he said.

“I think that political parties; if they do have evidence [of misconduct], they will file complaints. But we will look into this issue. We will see whether there are complaints or there are some people, as you said, wanting to complain but they feel scared,” he added.

Hun Sen previously appealed to political parties not to protest the results and threatened legal action against those who lodged complaints. “The current law permits the elimination of political parties,” he said.

Preliminary results had the CPP winning 48 percent of the vote compared to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s 45 percent. The CNRP did best in large cities and areas with high tourism numbers, while the CPP led in rural areas, its traditional base of support.

Hang Puthea, NEC spokesman, claimed the body was slow to release the results due to technical difficulties meaning its staff now had to collate the results by hand.

He said that groups that had reported results before the NEC released the official tally could face legal action. The pro-government Fresh News website has been criticized for publishing misleading results before the NEC had received them, which may breach the election law.

Election observers have opted to wait until the official results are announced before commenting on the quality of the election process.

Initial findings from international observers, including those from the U.S. Embassy, suggested that the election was orderly and peaceful.

The Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel), another observer, called for stricter regulations to avoid vote buying. However, its secretary general, Rohana Hettiarachchie, said that “honestly, we did not see vote buying directly.”