Cambodia Court Begins Review of Voting Complaints

By Sopheng- Cheang 21 August 2013

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties said they understand each other’s positions in their standoff over last month’s general election, though they reached no agreements in their third meeting over the dispute.

Their meeting Tuesday came as Cambodia’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, began reviewing the July 28 poll results, leaving open the possibility that it will resolve the opposition’s claims of unfairness.

The National Election Committee had rejected all 19 complaints over the results, which if they stand, give the ruling Cambodian People’s Party 68 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, and 55 to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

The opposition has threatened massive street demonstrations if its complaints over the election process are not dealt with by an impartial independent panel. A panel has been established, but seems to be making no progress. The Constitutional Council has up to 20 days to complete its review.

The opposition said the street protests would be a “last resort,” but the threat raised fears of political violence, especially because the government responded by deploying troops and armored vehicles in the capital. Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia’s leader for 28 years, has a reputation of dealing harshly with his opponents.

The Tuesday meeting of the parties’ representatives, like the others, yielded no immediate substantive agreements.

“After two hours of meeting, the two working groups of the parties have an understanding of each other’s purpose and what each wanted,” said their joint statement. It added that party representatives would consult with leaders to decide on further meetings.

The opposition party claims it actually won 63 assembly seats. Even the 55 seats conceded by the ruling party represents a substantial increase on the 29 seats it held in the last assembly.

The opposition’s main complaint alleges the voter registration process failed to properly list possibly more than 1 million people, who were therefore unable to vote. Several nonpartisan poll watching groups support that claim.

The official popular vote count shows the Cambodian People’s Party receiving 3,235,969 votes and the Cambodia National Rescue Party 2,946,176, with six other parties failing to accrue enough votes to win any assembly seats.

Hun Sen has said his party might fill all the assembly seats itself if the opposition boycotts the opening of parliament. While it is virtually impossible that Hun Sen would allow his party’s election victory to be reversed, he could make some concessions to lure the opposition into filling their legislative duties.

These could include an arrangement for opposition leader Sam Rainsy to get an assembly seat. He was barred from running because he was too late to register, because he was in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term on politically inspired charges. Hun Sen arranged a pardon for him shortly before Election Day.

Although Hun Sen is in a position to impose his will, a compromise would be in his interests to give his regime legitimacy, especially among foreign powers that have raised questions about the fairness of the polls.