Analysis finds inconsistencies during Cambodia’s 2022 commune election

A report from Human Rights Watch released Monday found numerous irregularities during the 2022 local commune elections that suggest widespread vote tampering and improper counting, raising concerns about whether Cambodia can hold a fair parliamentary election later this month.
The irregularities, which include vote tampering and improper vote counting and reporting, “call into question the credibility of Cambodia’s National Election Committee,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 
“While it’s already clear that the national election in July will be a mockery of the democratic process, a toothless and incompetent National Election Committee only makes matters worse,” he said.
The report comes as Cambodia’s Constitutional Council approved – as expected – an amendment to the election law that prohibits those who don’t vote in the July 23 election from running for office in future elections. It now goes to King Norodom Sihamoni for his signature.
The election change appears to be aimed at preventing a large-scale boycott of the vote by supporters of the main opposition Candlelight Party, the only one that could have mounted a serious challenge to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Im Chhun Lim, President of the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, announces the election disqualification of the Candlelight Party for the upcoming election in May 2023. Credit: Cindy Liu/Reuters
A boycott would be a way of expressing public anger over the committee’s decision in May to ban the Candlelight Party from running in the election. The committee blamed inadequate paperwork, but opposition activists have said the decision was politically motivated.
Anyone who doesn’t vote next month won’t be able to run as a candidate in next year’s Senate, district and commune elections, and also won’t be able to run in the next general election scheduled for 2027.
The amendment also allows for the prosecution of individuals and parties who discourage people from voting.
Human Rights Watch’s report cites a joint statement issued last week by a coalition of civil society organizations, associations and trade unions that was critical of the amendment’s “impact on free democracy, voter freedom of expression, voting rights, and to stand for candidates.”
It said the amendment “was made hastily and without consultation with stakeholders, including civil society organizations” in keeping with democratic standards. 
Fraud and tampering
Human Rights Watch’s report also noted that the Candlelight Party reported widespread intimidation of its polling place observers in Phnom Penh during last year’s commune elections.
In at least five Phnom Penh polling places, officials counted votes behind closed doors, the organization said. Limiting observation of ballot counting wasn’t widely seen or reported during the previous commune election in 2017, it said.
Election officials were required last year to submit a results form – called an “1102 form” – after ballots were counted at each site.
A police officer casts his vote at a polling station during a general election in Phnom Penh, in 2018. Credit: Darren Whiteside/Reuters
Human Rights Watch said it looked at the Phnom Penh forms because the 2022 results in the capital were so different from previous elections. 
In 2017, for example, the CPP won in 690 of 2,080 polling places, or 33 percent. But last year, the CPP won 99.9 percent – or all but one – of the 2,155 polling places in Phnom Penh for which Human Rights Watch examined the 1102 forms.
Additionally, vote numbers didn’t correctly add up on the 1102 form in 19 percent of total stations, and “corrections, correction fluid or crossed-out sections were found in key sections” on 1102 forms in 15 percent of polling stations.
“The irregularities in the 1102 forms are especially important because the commune elections are often seen as a testing ground for the national elections,” Human Rights Watch said.
Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


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