The question not asked

Before and after the recent national election, the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post have never tired of quoting leaders of the Cambodian National Rescue Party. (Sometimes just ordinary supporters of the CNRP suffice: last Wednesday, the Daily ran a front-page article on “a Loss of Legitimacy For CPP”, the evidence for which consisted of the remarks of four people in Phnom Penh.)

But no matter how many times they record the remarks of Sam Rainsy or Kem Sokha about the election being “stolen” and the CNRP “really” winning 63 seats in the National Assembly, there is an obvious question that seems to have been asked of the CNRP leaders only once – and then answered by them only partially.

It’s not a difficult question to ask. It consists of just one word (in English; two or three in Khmer). When the CNRP leaders say, “We won 63 seats”, the most obvious question is: Where?

The NEC’s official count gave the CNRP 55 seats. The CNRP leaders claim 63 seats. Shouldn’t they proclaim where they think they won more seats than they received in the official count?

It appears that one CNRP official did, on one occasion, tell reporters where he thought these seats were located. Son Chhay was quoted by Shane Worrell and Meas Sokchea in the 1 August Phnom Penh Post as saying the seats were in Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kandal, Kratie, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The article added that “finer details are not yet ready for the public, Chhay said.

“‛We will organise a press conference to announce all the details. The plan is to bring all that information to Phnom Penh to recount and recheck first.’

“Chhay added that the CNRP had ‛two weeks to do it, but for me, two weeks is too long’.”

Eight weeks later, if “all the details” of the CNRP leaders’ claims have been publicly presented, neither of the two papers that sometimes compete over which is the “newspaper of record” has recorded the fact very prominently.

“All that information” would of course include how the CNRP’s vote totals differ from the official ones: is the difference due to somebody making a mistake in adding up the commune totals, or are some of the commune totals different? If there are differences in commune totals, then again: is there a mistake in addition, or are there different totals from polling stations?

If there are significant differences between polling station figures reported to the NEC and those cited by the CNRP, then the matter could be settled by recounting the ballots from that station. But, as the NEC white paper on the elections points out, all the party representatives, including the CNRP representatives, at every polling station signed the various forms to certify that the count had been conducted and reported accurately. Similar certification was signed by everyone when the totals were consolidated at commune and then provincial level.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is the reason that delivery of the details promised by Son Chhay seems to have been forgotten by CNRP leaders. In “rechecking”, they must have discovered that if they started to argue about vote totals from wherever, they would be arguing with counts certified as accurate by their own representatives (and the almost identical count of the pro-opposition Comfrel).

It is understandable that CNRP leaders don’t want to get involved in that exercise, although it doesn’t reflect credit on them that they avoid acknowledging that their election-night claims were wrong. Why the Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily seem incapable of pursuing a six-weeks overdue answer to this question is another matter.

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