PHNOM PENH — Cambodia’s National Election Committee - the body that oversees elections - says other groups cannot take part in its investigation of alleged irregularities in Sunday’s vote. The inquiry into a vote that both the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party claim they won.
Earlier this week observers and election monitors applauded Prime Minister Hun Sen’s seemingly conciliatory statement that he supported a joint investigation by political parties and independent observers into claims of ballot fraud.
Hun Sen’s comments followed a bold claim by opposition leader Sam Rainsy that the ruling party lost Sunday’s election. Sam Rainsy insists that an independent investigation is needed into allegations of widespread electoral fraud.
The NEC, a supposedly independent body, is seen by many as beholden to the ruling party.
NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said the law under which it operates simply does not permit others to be involved in its investigation other than as observers. “By the law [the] NEC only ask the question to the related parties, the related people, but we cannot invite the people or the political parties to join the group or the election officer to investigate questions,” he explained.
He said the NEC expects to work through the list of complaints in the coming days and should issue preliminary results by August 10.
The opposition calculates it won 63 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, based on an assessment of polling station returns compiled by its party monitors. But it has yet to provide any evidence of its claim, which runs counter to early results showing the opposition had won 55 seats to the ruling CPP’s 68 seats.
Some observers question whether the NEC is able to carry out a credible investigation, especially because it also oversaw voter registration rolls, which missed the names of an estimated one million genuine voters.
Kuol Panha, who heads the independent election monitoring organization Comfrel, says an investigation of the NEC by the NEC will lack credibility. And, he points out, both the ruling party and the opposition have agreed to a joint process - so a deal should be reachable.
“And many voters also complain to NEC [that] they lost their right to vote during the Election Day. So this is a big question of credibility of NEC - not only this time but even before they did not really work hard to implement the reforms,” said Panha.
At this stage the scale of any irregularities remains unclear. However, Koul Panha said the opposition has provided Comfrel with some polling station returns that differ from the NEC’s.
Koul Panha said it should be simple enough to set up a joint group to investigate such discrepancies, comparing the polling station returns held by the various parties and the NEC. “The election result verification I think [is] not difficult. Maybe we can open and check any difference, why [it is] different and we can verify the number,” he said.
Koul Panha said the NEC should be careful to ensure that its process is inclusive otherwise voters might be unhappy with its findings - worsening and already tense situation in Cambodia.
The opposition said that if the NEC cannot conduct an inclusive investigation, then a separate body that brings together the political parties, the United Nations and local monitoring groups should be formed instead.
Meanwhile, the opposition has also warned that it might boycott the National Assembly. That would mean no quorum to approve a new government, and would deadlock the formation of the executive.