How the ERA covers for violence and racism

[Published by the Cambodia Herald on 9 February 2014.]

In previous articles on the report of the so-called Electoral Reform Alliance, I have called attention to a number of distortions and false suggestions or conclusions. Generous readers might attribute many of the errors in the report, not to deliberate ill will, but to ignorance or illogic on the part of its authors.

Here, however, I will focus on an aspect of the report that leaves no room for doubt that it is an act of quite conscious falsification by at least some of the NGOs using the label of the ERA to present their attacks on the National Election Committee and the conduct of the 28 July general election.

On page 45 of the ERA report there appears this passage: “In Kandal, where polling station 1204 was closed early due to violence, CNRP only needed 166 votes to gain an additional seat and 200 people registered on the voter list in station 1204 were unable to vote. According to LEMNA [Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly] Article 111, if there are serious irregularities that could have affected the election result, re-election should be completed within eight days.”

The passage is very carefully worded. It doesn’t say explicitly that the CPP used violence to stop people from voting at polling station 1204 and by doing so probably deprived the CNRP of an additional seat. But that is clearly the impression that would be taken away by readers who have no other source of information about station 1204. The reason the ERA didn’t say this explicitly is that the report’s authors knew that if they did so, it would be easy to expose them as liars. So they phrased their falsehood in a way that would allow them, if necessary, to claim: No, no, that’s not what we meant; you misunderstand us.

What the ERA knows but doesn’t tell the reader is that the CPP had nothing to do with the violence at station 1204, which was located in S’ang Phnom commune, S’ang district. The violence there came from a mob whipped up by the rhetoric of the leaders of the CNRP. According to an election observer from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, “a large group” of people who had already voted remained at the polling station. (This is what Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had publicly urged their followers to do.) This mob then physically prevented other would-be voters from entering the polling station. (See http://www.boell.de/en/node/277689.)

The Heinrich Böll observer said the mob alleged that the voters they blocked were not registered locally. But the only way to determine that would have been to allow them into the polling station and then check their names against the voter list – something that the CNRP representatives would have been able to do if they had any doubts about a voter. And although Licadho tried to use the incident against the electoral authorities, observers for that NGO discovered that the blocked voters were in fact on the Kandal voter list. They were workers at a local quarry who had previously voted in their varied home provinces but had registered in Kandal because their employer objected to them taking several days off to return and vote. There is nothing improper about voters changing their registration to the province where they are employed.

Furthermore, 1204 was far from the only polling station where people were blocked from voting, but the ERA is strangely silent about these other incidents.

For example, shortly after the election, the British newspaper Guardian described a mob of CNRP supporters physically blocking ethnic Vietnamese who are Cambodian citizens and were properly enrolled on the voters list. The reporter interviewed one of the people prevented from voting. A woman of 60, she was born in Cambodia to a family that has been here for generations. She told the journalist: “The opposition youth blocked us, yelling: ‛Yuon! Yuon! Go away! Don’t let them vote.’ I tried three times with help from police officers but couldn’t vote.”

Only seven or eight kilometres to the east of station 1204, the station at Khet Oudam in Traeuy Sla commune, S’ang district, was besieged by another racist mob. According to the 29 July Cambodia Daily, of 15 ethnically Vietnamese families who were properly registered, only five were “able to make their way past the angry crowd … to vote”. The story quoted a fisherman who was prevented from voting: “Most of us have lived here for three generations. I have an identity card and my name is on the voter list. I am a citizen, so why can I not vote?”

Another ethnically Vietnamese Cambodian citizen, a 38-year-old woman who had lived in the village since 1980, was blocked by an angry mob on her first attempt to vote, but later succeeded with police help: “I went again at 8 a.m. And police were there and helped me. They told people that I had an identity card and escorted me inside. I was shaking.”

Licadho also observed the racist violence at Traeuy Sla commune and reported: “… a large group of several hundred local residents were blocking individuals from voting apparently due to their alleged Vietnamese ethnicity … A neighbor of one of the blocked individuals stated that the man was [a] long term resident of the area. Local residents in this station expressly stated that they were blocking the individuals in question from voting due solely to their apparent ethnicity.”

Observers from Licadho also noted similar incidents of racist mobs blocking voters in Russey Keo district of Phnom Penh, Leuk Teik district of Kandal and Preah Sdach district of Prey Veng.

Licadho is one of the “contributing organisations” to the ERA report, so the ERA can hardly claim to be ignorant about these instances of mobs blocking Cambodian citizens from voting. But the report’s only reference to violence in the election dishonestly implies that the CNRP was the victim of the violence rather than the spur for it. The words “racism” or “racist” do not occur in the ERA report.

No one can know with certainty how the Cambodians blocked from voting at station 1204, Traeuy Sla and elsewhere would have voted if they had been able to get past the thugs who blocked their way. But it is clear that the thugs thought that those voters were not supporters of the CNRP; that is why they blocked them.

Yet the ERA report complains that the pro-CNRP violence at station 1204 should be a reason to have a re-election – that is, to give the CNRP a chance to do it again. If the CNRP trailed by only 166 votes, maybe in a re-election racist mobs could block an additional 167 suspected CPP voters. And if they don’t quite succeed then, the ERA could say that the violence in the re-election requires a re-re-election.

Both by what it suggests and by what it doesn’t say, the ERA report is a shameless and shameful defence of racist violence. And the report’s clear bad faith on this issue certainly argues against the possibility that its numerous other errors are simply honest mistakes.

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