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Work of Observers Key to Fair Election, Monitor Says

Comfrel has made a request to the National Election Committee to check voter cards and to allow a proper audit of them.
Comfrel has made a request to the National Election Committee to check voter cards and to allow a proper audit of them.

WASHINGTON DC - The head of the election monitoring group Comfrel says a number of election irregularities and fraud have taken place during the campaign period, as observers prepare for Election Day on Sunday.

Voter lists have numerous flaws, with some people unable to find their names and other names duplicated, Koul Panha, executive director of the group, told VOA Khmer. Other problems with voter cards and IDs exist, and there are 25 percent more ballots printed than needed, which is a concern, he said. But he said there is much that can be done on Election Day by those who want to observe the vote and its count.

This year’s election is being closely watched by donors and the international community, with election monitors and rights groups warning it runs a legitimacy risk.

Koul Panha said that monitoring of voters and their eligibility can take place at the sites, especially if monitors are local. They can identify whether an ID matches the voter at the polling station, he said.

“If the person is suspicious, the [National Election Committee] has instructed [observers] to file a complaint with the chief of the polling station, in order to question the voter’s eligibility,” he said. “This can be a preventative [measure] too.”

Polling stations should not be abandoned during lunchtime, he said. “If we walk away, it may allow someone who has bad intentions to cheat or create problems, like putting ballot slips or something in the ballot box.”

Observers should take note of all the ballots counted and ensure the counting process is correct. Ballot counts should be written down based on what the counter calls out, he said. Observers should follow the whole process, he said.

Observers also have to be on the lookout for other irregularities, such as vote-buying, he said.

“We are looking at this closely,” he said. “We are also concerned that local authorities, village chiefs, are present at polling stations. They should not be there to use their influence over voters. They can put pressure on voters, and this has happened improperly in past elections.”

This year’s election is especially concerning, because both the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party are expecting major turnouts, or even victory. That will lead to increased disputes around Election Day and the vote count, he said. Observers will have to be especially vigilant, he said.

Comfrel has made a request to the National Election Committee to check voter cards and to allow a proper audit of them. “There needs to be a discussion over each point, whether the person who gets the voter card is eligible or not,” he said. “If the process is not transparent, [the NEC] will be accused of issuing fraudulent voter cards.”

Typically, voters are made to dip a finger in ink to prove they have voted and ensure they do not vote more than once. However, Koul Panha said Comfrel is asking the NEC to ensure that each ballot station has ink that cannot be easily washed off.

Koul Panha also encouraged voters to remember that their ballots are secret, and that they should vote without fear. “Only a vote can change power, can change governments and power structures peacefully,” he said. “There is no other way but an election. Otherwise, it will be like our country was in the past, when we didn’t believe in elections, when we would really just carry guns and shoot at each other.”

Despite the irregularities, this year’s campaign process has been relatively peaceful. Police said Thursday they are holding one suspect accused of firing a weapon during a campaign rally by the Rescue Party. Meanwhile, authorities say they are prepared to deploy 70,000 security forces, including military and police, throughout the country on Election Day, to ensure a peaceful vote.