Election monitors say a test of election ink that found it easily washable, and therefore a concern for fraudulent voting, was made in the spirit of transparency, and not to create “turmoil” ahead of Sunday’s polls.
The election watchdog Comfrel on Friday tested the ink, provided by the National Election Committee, and found it could be easily washed off the fingers of voters, which would allow some people to vote more than once. Typically, voters are required to dip an index finger in indelible ink, which prevents them from voting again. But Comfrel staff found the ink was easy to wash off within “minutes.”
The weak ink adds concerns over the credibility of the elections, which have already been criticized for a number of irregularities, including apparently inflated voter lists and problems in the issuance of voter IDs, among others.
Thun Saray, a member of Comfrel and head of the rights group Adhoc, told reporters Saturday that the intent of the ink test was not to make the elections “look bad.”
“We want this election to be more credible, confident, and as maximumly fair as we can,” he said.
He suggested political parties and the NEC meet ahead of the election to prevent a flawed process in Sunday’s polls, “to seek measures to prevent this issue of double- or triple-voting.”
The ink test should not affect the entire election process, he said.
Comfrel said in a statement Saturday that the ink “should be tested at every polling station to test its quality.”
Countering the ink claims, NEC President Im Soursdey told reporters Saturday that the ink is of high quality and cannot be washed off easily, especially after it dries. “After dipping, when there is sun and water, it cannot be easily removed,” he said. Monitors should take note of election irregularities and report them to local election officials at polling sites, he said.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha told reporters the ink was not the only safeguard for voting. Voting lists exist to prevent double voting and there are voter IDs to be checked, he said. “So the indelible ink is a part of it,” he said. “Don’t worry too much about this issue.”
Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said he would not reveal how the ink was removed, to prevent problems on Election Day.
Hang Puthea, executive director of the election watchdog Nicfec, told VOA Khmer on Saturday that the ink was a concern, along with other irregularities, but he said in the end monitors will continue to watch the elections and then issue a public evaluation.
Monitors have asked the NEC to let them check the voters lists as people leave the polling sties, so that they can determine whether any names are listed twice and whether multiple voting occurs.
Sunday’s elections are being watched closely by donors and outside observers. Critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling party say the elections are biased in their favor, including favoritism by the National Election Committee.
In Washington on Saturday, US Republican Representative Ed Royce, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, noted that the election process has been called “fundamentally flawed” by rights groups.
“Under the leadership of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, human rights have deteriorated dramatically in Cambodia,” he said. “Critics of the regime are barred from broadcast media. The government ignores the illegal confiscation of land. Most egregious is the government’s involvement in the trafficking of women and children; both the police and the government are complicit in protecting and supporting networks that engage in this modern-day slavery.”
“The Cambodian people deserve better,” he said. “It is my hope that their voices are finally heard so the country can begin its path to democracy.”