Monday, December 02, 2013

Voting numbers questioned

Hong Menea photo
Kevin Ponniah and Chhay Channyda
The Phnom Penh Post, Mon, 2 December 2013

Voting results at more than 200 newly established polling stations were “heavily skewed” towards the ruling party at the July election, while seven communes recorded voter turnouts in excess of 110 per cent of eligible voters, a new report from an umbrella group of election monitors has found.

Sixty-nine per cent of the 209 new polling stations established for this election were won by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, “well above the nationwide average where the ruling party won 53% of the time”, the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) says in the report officially slated for release on December 13 but posted online by the opposition party on Thursday.

Of the 902 polling stations created for the election, 691 of them were formed from the splitting of existing stations, 209 were newly established, and two relocated, says the report, prepared by groups including Transparency International, the National Democratic Institute, Comfrel, NICFEC and Licadho.

New polling stations are created to provide for increasing numbers of voters in any one area, as according to the election law, no single polling station can have more than 700 people registered.

These new stations were largely located in the battleground provinces of Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Kandal, Phnom Penh, Prey Veng and Siem Reap, the report shows.
But the National Election Committee yesterday rejected the insinuation that the new polling stations somehow helped the CPP.

“We don’t create new [stations] to follow the political will of any party, but we create them based on the increase of new voters. Every election new polling stations [are created],” NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said yesterday.

“At each station there are only 700 voters. If we create them for only this or that party to win, where would the new voters be to vote [for them]?”

The ERA report also compares the total number of valid votes cast at polling stations according to the National Election Committee with the number of eligible voters living in the area as of late 2012 per the UNDP-sponsored Commune Database (CDB).

New polling stations in general had “unusually high turnout rates”, the report says. Forty-six-and-a-half per cent of new polling stations had a turnout rate of between 80 and 100 per cent, while those lofty numbers were matched at just 19.3 per cent of existing stations.

According to the NEC, overall turnout nationally was 69.61 per cent of registered voters.

The report lists 32 communes, 12 of which are located in Kandal, where voter turnout was found to be above 100 per cent of the eligible voting population.

Of the seven communes where the report found voting rates above 110 per cent, every single one had been found to have registration rates above 135 per cent (in two communes it was above 200 per cent) in a pre-election investigation by the Post that compared CDB figures to the NEC voter list.

Similarly, of the 32 communes found to have voter turnout rates above 100 per cent according to the report, all but one had been found to have over-registration rates above 108 per cent in the Post’s investigation.

Varin district’s Lvea Kraing commune in Siem Reap province had a voter turnout rate of 120.3 per cent, the highest in the country, according to the report.

In an August report, rights group Licadho identified a polling station in Lvea Kraing commune where 692 soldiers from Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey were allegedly trucked en masse to vote.

“In polling stations with turnout well higher than the country’s median, [the] CPP performed above its national average,” the report says, although it does not identify whether the same was true for turnout rates higher than 100 per cent.

“This was most frequently seen in competitive provinces. Interestingly, in several high-stakes provinces when voter turnout was consistent with the national average in a polling station, CNRP won, but in polling stations with extraordinarily large turnout, CPP won.”

The NEC also rejected the claim that voter turnout in certain communes was above 100 per cent, with Nytha simply labelling the claim as “not true”.

“I don’t believe it.… I just want to say that however many people are in the voter list – we only allow those people to vote,” he said.

The ERA report also found “unusual patterns” in changes made during the 2012 voter registry update to polling stations in particular areas.

The hotly contested provinces of Kampong Cham, Kandal and Takeo all had more than 100 polling stations where the number of registered voters spiked by at least 50 per cent before this election, with Siem Reap, Prey Veng, Phnom Penh, Kampong Speu and Battambang having more than 80 stations with the same level of increase.

The report also found that more than 50 per cent of voters were deleted from voter lists at a number of polling stations in Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey and Kampong Cham.

“This would indicate that more than half of the people in that polling station either died or moved in one year alone; assumptions not backed up by demographic trends,” it says.

A key concern of monitors before the election was that the mass issuance of more than 270,000 temporary Identity Certificate for Election (ICE) forms by commune councils between the time the voter-registration period closed and the election could be used to claim excess, invalid and duplicate names on the voter list.

The ERA says that high ICE usage could correlate to high voter turnout in certain areas but cannot verify this claim as the NEC has not disclosed the ICEs distributed at a commune-level, one of many complaints levelled against NEC transparency in the report.

Nytha claimed yesterday that the documents had been made available at both commune and provincial levels but were not “viewed” by the NGOs. He added that the ICEs were only issued to those who had lost their identification after registering.

Election watchdogs have maintained that so many people losing their IDs in such a short period does not make sense in the absence of a natural disaster.

Another key issue raised by election watchdogs leading to the election was missing names on the voter list, with the National Democratic Institute’s voter list audit finding that 10.8 per cent of voters who believed they were registered could not find their names on the voter list. The ERA report reveals that number has since been scaled down to 8.8 per cent following a search of the full voter list database after the election.

In comparison, the NEC changed its preliminary missing name figure of nine per cent to three per cent after a search of their internal database.

“Even if using the NEC’s 3% figure, the number of excluded citizens is still greater than the difference in the final vote share between the CPP and the CNRP, though it is not known how many of them would have voted or for whom they would have voted,” the report says.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party – which continues to boycott parliament in protest of the election results – said yesterday that the ERA report bolstered its call for an independent investigation.

“It is very clear that the whole election was crafted solely to see where [the CPP] could add on [votes] where they were going to miss out. These [new] polling stations were crafted for imported voters,” party public affairs head Mu Sochua said.

“The more the NEC deny, the more and more they get themselves in trouble. If you want people to know the truth you reveal the truth, you cooperate.”

But the NEC, for its part, does not appear to believe that reports such as the ERA’s reflect the truth. “We have more than 40,000 national observers and 300 international observers. There are many NGOs and observers that talk positive about the election result. We see only a few NGOs that have said that this election was not free and fair,” Nytha said.


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