Friday, December 13, 2013

Sihanoukville Railway Station

The Sihanoukville Railway Station was designed and built by Georges Kondracki and a German engineer in the late 1960s. It was the last of three major train stations built as part the construction of the Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville rail link constructed between 1960 and 1969. The Sihanoukville Railway Station was scheduled to be completed in 1967 but was not completed and inaugurated until 1969.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CNRP Protest March: Day 1

The CNRP began another round of demonstrations today, October 23, promising three days of protests based out of Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. Though there have been marches connected to CNRP demonstrations before, this is the first time that it is integral to the protest. The CNRP has promised to march to the UN office and several embassies (the signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Accord) in order to deliver a petition demanding an independent investigation into significant irregularities and alleged fraud in the 2013 National Assembly elections. The CNRP notification of their intention to march was initially rejected by city hall, raising concerns that an attempt to march might be met with force from the police. But a deal was struck and city hall agreed to a plan for a peaceful march following a specific route with a limited number of participants.

Today, protestors gathered at Freedom Park throughout the morning. Though I was not at Freedom Park this morning, reliable commentators on the scene put the number of protestors at 10,000-20,000 midday before the march, perhaps more later in the day after the march.

Today's march was to the UN Human Rights office and came off peacefully, both sides - police and protestors - behaving responsibly. It followed the agreed upon route though far exceeded the participation cap requested by city hall. The marchers left Freedom Park early afternoon and proceeded up Street 51, across town to Boueng Keng Kang 1 and the UN office. Street barricades were minimal and police presence along the route was comparatively light, except at Sihanouk/Suramarith Boulevard crossing where, in a show of force, hundreds of geared up riot police, soldiers and water cannons stood blocking the road 50 meters to one side of the protest route, guarding the way to the Prime Minister's house and the Independence Monument. The protestors passed without incident and continued into Boeung Keng Kang 1. After the petition was delivered to the UN office, protestors reversed course, making their way back up Street 51 to Freedom Park.

The only point of tension I noticed was at the crossing of Sihanouk Blvd where riot police and marchers came so close. The police stood at the ready, shields in hand with hundreds more police and soldiers in backup. Passing protestors slowed and gawked and sometimes jeered the police lines but CNRP organizers endeavored to keep people moving and CNRP peacekeepers made another impressive display of peaceful protest technique, linking arms to keep people back away from the barricades and police. As Sam Rainsy passed during the return march, he made an abrupt turn to the barricades and stopped, people cheered, several protestors followed, prompting police to move that way as well, drawing jeers from the crowd. He tarried only briefly before moving on, in a 'made you flinch' moment, defusing tension as quickly as he had raised it.

Sam Rainsy began and ended the day on one of his central political themes - the Vietnamese. When he first spoke at Freedom Park before the march he told the crowd that the Vietnamese must leave Cambodia. After the march, back at Freedom Park he ended the day saying that the only support for the CPP was from "ghost voters and Vietnamese."

The following video is of part of the protest march as it passed on Street 51 at about 4:15PM, a bit past the half-way point on its way to the UN Human Rights office.

More information and photos:
Ruom: CNRP starts first day of protests
John Vink: The Afternoon Of Day One…
Omar Havana: First of Three Days of Mass Demonstrations
The Cambodia Daily: Thousands Join Opposition Rally in Phnom Penh
George Steptoe: Day One of Protest: CNRP Slips into Something Comfortable

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Monks, barricades, police and flowers

At the barrier.

Mid-afternoon today word spread that the police had once again placed barricades in the roads surrounding the Royal Palace area and that police presence had increased significantly. Apparently a group of monks were in route to the Palace to pray and ask the King to delay the opening session of the National Assembly scheduled for next week. Their passage to the Palace blocked, a little more than 100 monks stopped at the barricades, sat in the street (Sisowath Quay near the Chaktomuk Theater) and began to meditate, pray and chant. Several police manned the barricades while others directed traffic away. Eventually a contingent of riot police arrived in full gear, initially lining up at barrier facing the monks. The monks responded by chanting and praying, then standing and speaking calmly to the police about their position, taking photos of themselves and the police with their various iDevices and finally offering lotus flowers, some of which were accepted, if only briefly. The police seemed a bit disarmed by the display, remaining relatively relaxed and eventually just sat to the sides, smoking cigarettes and monitoring the situation. The monks dispersed after 45 minutes or so, leaving a few protestors, some of whom had some harsh words for the police, but they too left in fairly short order. A few photos...

Monks sit in the center of Sisowath Quay Blvd. near Chaktomuk Theater, meditating and chanting.

Riot police arrive

This monk made an clearly heartfelt statement to the police.

Flowers offered, a few of which were accepted, if only briefly before being tossed aside.

Offering flowers.

OK, now what?

Camera shy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

CNRP Demonstration v.2: Day 1

Flashing '7' at Freedom Park

Today was the first day of the CNRP's planned multi-day mass demonstration protesting the election results, demanding justice and an independent investigation of the election results. The demonstration in Phnom Penh was based out of Freedom Park, but unlike the previous demonstration, Freedom Park was set up for a multi-day event with people staying the night, and protestors marched outside the Freedom Park area. In my estimation there were at least 25,000 people in the Freedom Park area midday today, perhaps significantly more, and more protestors were on the riverfront and in other areas.

Police presence around the city was much heavier today than it was for the last demonstration. Roads were blocked with concertina wire blockades across town making travel difficult, and PMs (gendarmes) and riot police in full gear were visibly out in significant force. There was at least one violent confrontation between police and protestors during the day today, taking place on the riverfront (Sisowath Quay) in front of Wat Ounalom. Protestors broke through street barricades and police fired smoke grenades and shot water cannons to drive protestors back.

A few photos from today:

Crowd cheers speaker at Freedom Park. 

In the days before the protest was to begin, the CNRP prepared Freedom Park for protests and for overnight campers, erecting tent roofs along the sides, taping off walkways through the park, bringing in bottled water, etc. This video of Freedom Park was taken in the mid-late afternoon, the day before the protest.

This video was taken at Freedom Park during the afternoon today, standing in about the same place as I did for the video above that I took yesterday. Unfortunately I seem to have rotated the opposite direction.

Protestors at Freedom Park, mid-afternoon.

 Some shops, especially those near the Freedom Park area and on the riverfront, remained closed and barred in anticipation of possible violence.

Meanwhile down at the riverfront, things weren't going quite as peacefully. There had been a stand-off between police and protestors for much of the afternoon. Earlier the police had fired smoke grenades and water cannons to disperse protestors, but the stand-off continued. Here demonstrators carry street barricades and throw them in the river.

One of the demonstrators pointed out this (spent?) smoke grenade sitting on the ground amongst the protestors, fired earlier by the police. He made it a point to tell me "it is from Vietnam," which, upon inspection of the label, it clearly was.

Onlookers climb the Techo statue on the riverfront to get a better view of the standoff between protestors and the police.

Riot police stand the line on Sisowath Quay near the FCC, several deep, ready to confront protestors that they are facing. Behind them are several ranks of PMs, waiting to back them up.

The standoff.

Protestors facing police from the other side of the barbed wire barricade. In an amazing display of non-violent protest technique, as the protestors grew angrier and closer to the barbwire yelling at the police, protest organizers linked arms in front of the protestors and gently (and successfully) ushered them back away from the barbed wire line and confrontation, calming them a bit as well. 

On the riverfront, speaking though a megaphone at the police.

Sam Rainsy arrives on the riverfront and manages to calm his people and get the police to relax and remove the barricade, essentially diffusing the stand-off.

At Freedom Park, around 8:00PM. Most of the protestors from Phnom Penh had gone home, leaving the Park mostly empty. A couple/few thousand people, most from the countryside, remained and will spend the night at the Park. It was drizzling a bit when I was there and people clustered under the tented areas, eating dinner and socializing. Some, including this fellow, were working hard to keep political spirits high.

Food vendor and tent at Freedom Park.

Ready for the night in Freedom Park.

Breaking news from the late evening today: There are reliable reports that a protestor was killed and others wounded this evening in a confrontation with police at the Kbal Thnal overpass in southern Phnom Penh.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

CNRP Demonstration: September 7

Monks arriving to participate in the prayer ceremony.

Yesterday the CNRP held the first of its long-anticipated "mass demonstrations" in Phnom Penh.

Post-election opposition demonstrations were considered likely even before the elections, and after the close election results and reports of widespread irregularities, many assumed demonstrations to be imminent and inevitable. Yet the movement toward full fledged demonstrations has been slower and more measured than many expected.

On August 6 CNRP held its first large post-election gathering in Phnom Penh, referring to it not as a 'demonstration,' but as a thanks to supporters and a rally to announce the post-election state of affairs. It was held at Freedom Park and, on my observation, drew around 10,000 people. (The Cambodia Daily put the number at 'more than 5000.') In the following weeks, as negotiations and posturing between the parties continued and the police and military put on a display of readying for trouble, speculation ran rife about when and if and what kind of demonstrations there might be.

Three weeks later, on August 26 CNRP held its second mass gathering at Freedom Park, again not calling it a 'demonstration,' but a 'meeting' to inform their supporters of the state of negotiations and seek input on what to do next. Like all previous CNRP events, the mood and tone was largely positive and enthusiastic. Prior to the gathering there had been speculation that CNRP might be losing momentum in the lengthening delay to action, but this rally clearly drew more than the previous one. In my observation at least 15,000 people attended. (The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post put it at 'more than 10,000.') If the attendance numbers are any indication, CNRP was at the very least maintaining momentum.

Last week, in face of an impasse in negotiations over the investigation into allegations of election irregularities, the CNRP finally set a date for its first 'mass demonstration' - Freedom Park, 7AM-11AM Saturday morning, September 7, the day before the NEC was scheduled to release the official election results. The announcement was met with keen anticipation by approving supporters and a tense public.

In a surprising move a few days later, Sam Rainsy announced what seemed to be a fundamental change in the nature of the demonstration, saying that it was to be held in the spirit of prayer, meditation and non-violence, a Gandhian affair of sorts. Some CNRP supporters expressed confusion and frustration over the announcement, perhaps deflating expectations some. 

In the lead up to the demonstration CNRP held training sessions at Freedom Park, teaching participants the techniques of non-violent protest. The Ministry of Interior issued basic regulations for the demonstration including capping attendance at 10,000. The CNRP stated that it expected at least 20,000. In the days immediately before the planned demonstration the government set up checkpoints on the main thoroughfares into the city from the countryside, barring travel to Phnom Penh for people suspected of coming to join the demonstration.

The day of the demonstration, early Saturday morning before it began, the police were already out in force, easily quadruple their unusual numbers, stationed around town, especially in sensitive areas. Crowd control barricades were piled streetside at the ready and riot police in full gear stood in groups with the usual traffic police and Gendarmerie. Water cannon firetrucks were parked strategically just off the main road though town (Norodom Blvd.)

Road traffic that morning was light. The markets were very slow with fewer vendors and customers. The city braced.

The demonstration came off without a hitch, without serious incident, much as advertised.

The event was very well organized. Bottled water, bread, slogan emblazoned headbands, stickers and lotus flowers were available for all participants. A medical station was set up and medics patrolled the edges of the park. Organizers helped direct and control the crowd. Walking paths and exits were taped off throughout the park.

At least within sight of the demonstration area, police presence was minimal and occupied primarily with traffic control.

By 7:15AM there were at least a thousand people in the park. Organizers distributed headbands and stickers through the crowd. People did not arrive in droves but in a continuous steady stream. By 8:30AM at least 5-6000 people were in the park and nearby side streets.

Well more than a dozen "Human Rights Observers," some identifiable by their blue shirts, presumably from the UN, CCHR and other NGOs, roamed around and through the crowds. I also noticed 4 or 5 foreigners in the crowd, participating in the demonstration. 

Participants carried lotus flowers and flags and hand-drawn placards repeating the same 5 or 6 themes verbatim, most in both Khmer and English, including: "My Vote, My Life"; "My Vote, My Nation"; "Where is my vote?"; "There is Justice, There is Peace" and "We need an independent truth committee."

Like all previous CNRP rallies I have attended, the mood was positive and welcoming, though perhaps comparatively a bit toned down. The crowds were well behaved and orderly. As I wandered the park people seemed particularly interested in being photographed with their bilingual placards and eager to talk about their political complaints and desires. Similar themes were repeated in my brief discussions with different protestors: 'the election was a cheat, Vietnam and China are eating up Cambodia, people are still poor, Hun Sen needs to step down, Cambodia/CNRP needs help from America/UN.' Also, more than one protestor offered unsolicited reasons for what appeared to be the comparatively low turnout at the demonstration, citing countryside checkpoints and fear generated by the heavy police presence in the city.

Sam Rainsy arrived shortly after 8:00AM, spoke and prayed and spoke some more. Crowd numbers reached their peak over the next hour and a half, achieving about the same density and area coverage as the August 6 rally. The crowds never covered as much area nor were as dense as the August 26 rally. For some reason, crowd estimates have varied widely, but in my direct observation, if the crowd size estimates of the previous rallies as stated above are correct and can be used as a benchmark, there were approximately 10-15,000 people present at the peak of yesterday's rally, give or take a few thousand.

Almost as soon as Sam Rainsy finished speaking at around 10AM the crowds began to thin quickly, probably partly a result of the intense sun and rising temperatures. It was an exceptionally hot and sunny morning. Many sought refuge from the sun under trees and in the shadows of nearby buildings.

During the later half of the demonstration dozens of protestors gathered along the Norodom Blvd Naga Bridge at the back of Freedom Park, cheering and waving to passing cars and motos, snarling traffic a bit and garnering some supportive responses.

By 11:45AM the crowd was down to a few hundred enthusiastic supporters clustered near the stage. Music and rally cheers continued, people danced, and the protest took on tone of a party as the remaining crowd slowly melted away. The riot police that had been positioned around town could be seen packing up their equipment and leaving their posts by mid-afternoon.

Immediate reaction to the demonstration has been mixed, some questioning its effectiveness, others citing it as a new approach and part of a long term strategy. Reporting on the event, the Wall Street Journal noted that some analysts say "the demonstration points to rising momentum for the (CNRP)", but this does not seem supported by numbers. The CNRP called for a "mass demonstration," urging its supporters to turn out in numbers. Yet the turnout was probably lower and was certainly no greater than the last CNRP rally, falling short of the party's stated expectations. While this does not necessarily indicate a loss of momentum, neither does it point at a "rising momentum," but rather, at best, leaves open the question 'Is the CNRP maintaining momentum?' And it will likely remain open at least until the next demonstration, when and if there is one. 

Offering free lotus flowers to supporters arriving at the demonstration area.

An oft repeated theme.

Joining the prayer.

From the back of the crowd during Sam Rainsy's talk.

One of many who asked me to photograph him with his protest placard.

The after party.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Balance B

Symmetry enough

Buddha shrine within vihear of the pagoda next to the ruins of Bakong, Roluos Group, Siem Reap, Cambodia 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sam Rainsy at Freedom Park

The CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party) held a large gathering today at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh with Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha in attendance. This was the largest gathering of the CNRP in Phnom Penh since the pre-election campaign period. In the lead up to the gathering it was variously referred to as a meeting, a rally, a gathering to express gratitude and a protest by various sources. At least some of the international press seems to have settled on the word 'protest,' but to me it felt far less like a protest than a rally of sorts, with an atmosphere akin to a campaign event. Though there was plenty of party regalia in evidence (flags, stickers, hats, etc.) there were no protest chants, signs or placards. Both Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha spoke, thanking their supporters and making various points about the party platform, the election, the alleged election irregularities, and the party's complaints, intentions and plans for protests, etc. Articles in the international press (link, link, link) have done a better job of explaining what was said than I could do here. Reported estimates of the crowd size varies between varies between 5000 and 15,000. It would be difficult for me to give an accurate estimate from my vantage within the crowd, but it was likely closer to the middle/upper end of the reported estimates. The atmosphere, like all CNRP events that I have attended to date, was happy, positive and energetic, though perhaps somewhat less exuberant than the campaign period.     

Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha arrive at the rally.

 Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy

 The crowd

At the back of the crowd

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dreamt of a dead friend

A hard man to like.

Career soldier (Brit) and mercenary, retired. Veteran of the Malayan emergency. Did some work in Africa too. Lived in Singapore for years. A fat, alky, chain-smoking whoremonger and a teller of good stories. We lived in Sihanoukville for a few years back in the mid-90s when the wars were still on and there were but a few barang in the province.

We'd sit streetside at the town's number 1 brothel (Victoria), drink beer and talk shit. The taxigirls would tease me over hanging with the old man, calling him 'your father Chris.' (Actually, that began in 96. I had been working in the countryside for a couple of weeks and was in town for the weekend. Apparently it was a slow night at the brothel and a couple of the girls called me to come hang out and drink. I told them I couldn't because I was watching movies with Chris at his house that night. They said, "oh, you do whatever he tells you to. He your father?" Forever after that he was 'your father Chris.')

Anyway, he loved bird watching (real birds) and history books and old guns. He had a French MAT-49 he bought in Vietnam mounted on the wall of his bar in Sihanoukville that I don't think anybody knew was fully functional. I taught him how to use computer and helped him write letters to his aging mum back in England. He'd tell me how great Lee Kwan Yew was and I'd argue Singapore lacked civil rights. Drove him mad, those human rights arguments. He'd call me every few nights (when the phones were working) and say "Come drink with me you Commie bastard." And I usually would.

He introduced me to the Hash House Harriers and the quaint colonial tradition of mixing exercise with chugging beer. He got into petty wars with just about every other barang in town. But not me. Me he treated like a son.

A codger when he died suddenly back in July 2003, somebody sent me the news by email in Prey Veng where I was working the election. It threw me. I didn't see him those last few years before he died. He had moved to Chiang Mai. He never met my daughter. I wish he had. Meant to take her up there to show him, but somehow never got around to it.

The other night I dreamed I was in front of Monument Books in Phnom Penh, looked over and there he was on the ground doing sit-ups as part of a drinking game, cigarette hanging out of his mouth per usual. He saw me, jumped up, ran to me calling my name, smiling as he rarely would, and threw his arms around me. We hugged. (We never hugged in real life.) Arms still around each other I looked up at his face, overwhelmed with emotion and said, "But you’re dead." He looked confused. I said "in 94." He looked up as if he was trying to remember. I started to cry and said, "or in 97 or 98." I couldn't remember. I recalled talking to him on the phone from Phnom Penh during the fighting of July 97, unable to hear him for the noise of machine guns and tank fire down the street. 'It couldn't be 97' I thought, looking up at him again, tears streaming down both of our faces, him smiling but looking confused.

And then I woke up, face wet, alone here in my hotel room in Prey Veng.

RIP my friend.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Rumor Mill

The post-election rumor mill is in full swing in Cambodia, most, probably the vast majority easily proven untrue on even a little investigation. Some of the rumors are unconfirmable either way. This is nothing new to Cambodian elections. Rumor mongering has been a major part of the Cambodian election environment since the first elections in 1993. Clearly, such rumors are often designed to be manipulative and can contribute to an atmosphere of fear and anger and sometimes lead to violence. False rumors of soup poisoning during the 1998 post-election demonstrations probably contributed to some of the anti-Vietnamese violence that occurred. In 2003, I complained to several Cambodians about the sheer volume of obviously suspect rumors, asking, somewhat rhetorically, of some of my more educated Cambodia friends "why would you believe this garbage?" One man explained by saying “It’s all we have.” Given the state's tight control on Khmer language media, I had to admit he had a point. Information vacuums are breeding grounds for stuff like this.

The following are some rumors heard and collected before and after the 1998, 2003 and 2008 elections. Many of the same rumors were told during different elections, sometimes with little or no variation. NONE of these rumors are from the current election, though you will probably find that some of these old rumors are being recirculated in various forms this election.

I repeat, NONE of these rumors are from the current election and most if not all are UNTRUE. DO NOT pass them on.

Chea Sim and a split in the party

There is currently a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. (1998)

There is currently a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. The Hun Sen faction is trying to identify potentially disloyal military commanders and local officials. (2003)

There is a very serious split between Hun Sen and Chea Sim. (2008)

The USA backs the Chea Sim faction of the CPP. (2003)

The CPP Steering Committee held a secret meeting last week in which they voted 80 to 23 in favor of making Chea Sim Prime Minister. (2003)

Demonstrations and security

Opposition activists were part of the pro-CPP demonstration in Phnom Penh. The opposition activists committed some of the violence that occurred in order to make the CPP look bad. (1998)

There will be simultaneous demonstrations by the CPP and the losing parties in Phnom Penh, perhaps prompting fighting and riots. (2003)

There will be demonstrations and perhaps riots in Phnom Penh on and after August 8th, the beginning coinciding with the announcement of the election results. (2003)

There will be demonstrations in Phnom Penh on or around August 15th. (2003)

There will be demonstrations in Phnom Penh on or around October 15th. (2003)

The CPP was arranging to employ people in Svay Rieng to act as demonstrators in new demonstrations (possibly anti-American and/or pro-election) in Phnom Penh. (2003)

Opposition candidates and officers are quietly sneaking out of the country using overland routes to Thailand. (2003)

The police are preparing to arrest all FCP candidates, officers and activists. (1998, 2003)

Unexplained and seemingly random arrests of common people such as moto and cyclo drivers are occurring in Phnom Penh. (1998, 2003)

A travel permit system is being created and will be implemented in the near future. Its purpose will be to control and limit inter-provincial travel. (2003)

A new ID card or Family Book system is going to be implemented country wide. (2003)

Hun Sen

Hun Sen’s recent “very cruel” actions can be explained by his addiction to opium. He smokes it all the time in specially made cigarettes. Everybody has seen him smoke during his TV interviews. His driver says that he smokes two of these cigarettes on the drive between Takamao and Phnom Penh. (2003)

During the crackdown, some students and monks were fed to and eaten alive by crocodiles at Takmao. The people that live near Takmao could hear the screams. Two bags of heads (which the crocodiles could not or did not want to eat) were disposed of elsewhere. (1998)

Under pressure from recent events, Hun Sen is on an opium smoking binge. You can tell by his black lower lip. When he is binging like this he becomes very unpredictable. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Rumors of war

There has been a buildup of military and police in Preah Sdach and other areas of the Prey Veng province.(2003)

Regular military has been moved closer to Phnom Penh. (1998, 2003)

Neak Bun Chhay has gone to Battambang to recruit FCP soldiers. (1998)

The military, particularly the MPs, are preparing for something big, perhaps a move on Phnom Penh. They now have a list of opposition people who will be rounded up if something happens. (2003)

Phnom Penh is being secretly surrounded by soldiers and MPs. (2003, 2008)

Military forces have been concentrated around Phnom Penh in order to defend the city from opposition forces. (1998, 2003)

Neak Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal are planning to lead several western provinces in secession from the country. (1998)

A plane dropped leaflets over Battambang that call for Prince Ranariddh to be removed from the head of FUNCINPEC. The leaflet purports to be from elements within FUNCINPEC, but people speculate that it is part of a CPP plot to sow division in FUNCINPEC.  (1998)

The US and rumors of foreign involvement

The US Congress has declared Hun Sen a war criminal. Congress is now waiting for the President to ratify the bill. (1998)

US warships and planes are preparing to attack Phnom Penh and arrest Hun Sen. (1998)

The USA is preparing to assist Gen. Neak Bun Chhay in a military offensive against Phnom Penh. (1998)

If the US declares Hun Sen a war criminal, all SRP activists and US Observers will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If the negotiations in Siem Reap fail, all SRP activists and US Observers will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If FCP and CPP come to an agreement in Siem Reap, all SRP activists will be arrested and possibly killed. (2003)

If the US declares Hun Sen a war criminal, Hun Sen will split the country militarily and set up an autonomous zone in the eastern provinces. (1998)

The US is sending an aircraft carrier to the region to help defend the SRP when SRP wins the election. (1998, 2003)

The US will attack Cambodia and oust Hun Sen if SRP loses. (2003, 2008)

Before the vote

Vietnamese are immigrating to Cambodia in much greater numbers in order to participate in the elections and vote for the CPP. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Village chiefs will organize people to ‘telegraph’ vote on Election Day. (2003)

Ballot boxes have been copied and will be used to replace the real ballot boxes when they are transported from the polling station to the counting center. (2003)

Blank ballots have been stolen from the printer by the CPP. Somebody inside the NEC has revealed the ballot stamps to the CPP. The CPP has already stamped and marked all of the ballots. Village chiefs will distribute the marked ballots to people on the night of July 26th. People will sneak the pre-marked ballot into the polling station, exchange it for the real ballot and drop the pre-marked ballot in the ballot box. (2003)

The CECs have received instruction to pre-mark the ballots for the ruling party. (2003, 2008)

The Vietnamese

Vietnamese are immigrating to Cambodia, particularly in Prey Veng, in much greater numbers this month in order to participate in the elections and vote for the CPP. They are settling in Pear Ro and Peam Chor districts. (2003)

Vietnam have moved artillery to the border area opposite Preah Sdach and aimed it into Cambodia. (2003)

The Vietnamese army has moved up to the border. (1998, 2003, 2008)

Vietnamese are serving poison soup at the market to try to kill Khmers. (1998)

Vietnamese are infiltrating into Cambodia for unknown purposes, perhaps to act as soldiers in hiding in preparation to support the CPP militarily in case of war, perhaps to dig wells for the CPP. (1998, 2003)

There is an underground force of ethic-Vietnamese police and soldiers, disguised as common people, who will be called on by Hun Sen if war breaks out. (1998, 2003)

Uniformed Vietnamese troops were seen in Battambang province over a month ago. (2003)

Uniformed Vietnamese troops were seen in hiding south of Phnom Penh. (2008)

Vietnamese troops are in Hun Sen’s compound at Takmao preparing to defend the CPP in case of war. (2003)

Vietnam is poised to attack Cambodia along the Prey Veng and Svay Rieng borders. (1998, 2003)

Vietnam will invade if there is any violence against the ethnic-Vietnamese in Cambodia. (2003)

Vietnamese voters were issued two, three, and sometimes as many ballots as they asked for at polling stations in Prey Veng. (2003, 2008)

Vietnamese in Preah Sdach district have been taunting Khmers, saying, ‘now your party loses, we win, you won’t get a seat.’ (2003)

There has been a sudden influx of illegal Vietnamese into the country, as the illegal Vietnamese already in Cambodia call their friends and relatives to come join them now that the CPP has won. (2003)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Election Day: Notes

Polling station, Prey Veng province, polling day, about 10:00AM
The following are some notes from my experiences on election day, July 28. I was in Prey Veng province for election day, based out of Prey Veng city in the heart of the province. On election day I visited about 25 different polling stations, all but 3 located in the countryside outside the city (districts Ba Phnom, Kampong Leav, Preah Sdach, Kamchay Meas and Pea Rieng.) At several locations 2 or 3 polling stations were grouped closely together, usually in different classrooms in the same school building complex. I spent more time at some stations than others, but usually averaging only about 10 minutes each. I spent more than an hour at the opening station and 2 hours at the closing station (including counting.) These observations are those of only one individual and extremely limited in scope, and therefore should not be taken as representative or generalized to the overall election day environment. On a personal note: I have extensive technical election observation experience and a fairly good knowledge of Cambodian polling procedures.


Polling stations opened at 7:00AM.

I arrived at my first polling station at 6:30AM, a half hour before opening. It was part of a cluster of three stations located within 50 meters of each other in a pagoda/school complex located in the rural commune of Baray about 5kn from Prey Veng city. Polling staff were present at all of the stations and all stations had been set up before I arrived. There were also party observers and some non-party election observers at all three stations. There were no lines of voters at any of the stations, just a few people lingering around the registration lists check for their names. At the one station where I observed the pre-opening and opening procedures, the station chairman called all observers to inspect that the ballot box was empty before closing it and applying a ziplock seal which he again invited the observers to inspect. The first voter arrived alone, was a middle aged woman, used an ICE form as identification and voted seemingly without a hitch. Voters did not begin to arrive in numbers until about 7:15AM.

See 'Election Day: Morning' for more photos and notes.

Atmosphere and general observations

The weather was good – partially sunny, moderately warm, no rain. As the weather had been fair over the few days before the election, most roads, even in the deep countryside, were dry and passable.

I witnessed no serious tension or incidents. The atmosphere was light, but not quite the party-like atmosphere of previous Cambodian elections I have observed.

Unlike previous elections, there were polling staff stationed at the registration lists to assist people find their names.

There appeared to be many more young people (under 30) voting than I have seen at previous elections.

I ran across CEC officials at three different sites, inspecting the station operation and situation.

All election officials I met this day - CEC, PEC and polling station staff - were, at least to me, open and helpful, taking time to answer my questions and giving me as much access they could within the rules.

Irregularities, anomalies

I noticed many people using ICE forms for identification. I saw ICE forms being used in both the morning and afternoon. In most cases the people bearing ICE forms were young people. I asked 6 or 7 of the ICE form users why they were using the form instead of a regular ID. All but one said that they have only a family book as ID but there is only one family book for the whole family, yet there are several people of voting age in their family. So rather than pass the family book around between everybody, they got the ICE forms to have individual IDs for voting. The one with a different story said that he lost his ID on his frequent travels between Phnom Penh and Prey Veng. None of the people I spoke to told me how they voted, nor did I ask. But 3 of them spoke in terms of “change…giving power to the people…not being afraid to stand up,” vocabulary ordinarily associated with the opposition party .

I saw what appeared to be the village chief (perhaps two) linger near the polling station. In neither case was he disturbing or talking to voters, just watching.

I witnessed three instances of people who thought they were registered, expected to find their names on the registration list, but were unable to find their names and left without voting. All were disappointed, but none protested strongly.

I witnessed two instances of people being refused the right to vote for lack of proper identification. In both cases, the voter had only a photocopy of their ID.

I saw one instance of somebody being allowed to vote using only a photocopy ID.

I saw two instances of security being slightly within the exclusion perimeter, but it seemed to be largely due to trying to find shade fromthe hot sun.

On the day prior to election day I visited 10 polling station at four different sites. Polling staff and security were present at 3 of the stations. At all but one of the other sites the stations were locked and secure and security was present. At one site with two stations, the station was locked and secured, but neither the polling station staff nor security were present.


Turnout appeared to be light. Unlike my observations of the elections in 1998 and 2003 there were no lines at the polling stations I observed prior to opening. It took until 15 minutes after opening before lines began to form.  By early mid-morning some polling stations seemed to be moderately busy with a steady stream of voters coming though and lines of 20-30 people. Others were quite quiet, with no voters either inside or outside the station and the staff reporting less than 30% turnout at 10:30-11:00AM. At 11:00, one station chairman at a polling station in Prey Veng city said “If this were a business, we’d have to close for lack of customers." I asked the staff at a few stations why turnout was so low and they speculated that “they are farmers, they will come in the afternoon” and “they work in Phnom Penh and did not come back to vote.” After noon we visited at least a dozen more stations and every one was dead quiet with only the occasional voter coming though. The station I closed at the end of the day, which was also the first station I visited in the morning, reported approximately a 66% total turnout.

Unfolding/stacking ballots in preparation for counting. Note observers with green IDs and staff with yellow IDs.

Closing and counting

See 'Election day: Counting' for more photos and notes.

Polling stations closed at 3:00PM. Unlike previous elections, ballots were not packaged and transported to separate counting centers but were counted at the polling station immediately after voting closed. At 3:00PM when the polling station was closed, the ballot box was sealed and the polling station was converted into a counting station.

I visited the same station for closing as I attended for opening that morning in Baray commune about 5km from Prey Veng city. In addition to the polling staff there were 4 observers present – 3 party observers (CPP, CNRP and unidentified) and one non-party observer (unidentified organization.)

The station was closed promptly and ceremoniously at exactly 3:00PM. There were no voters in line. The chairman announced the closure, ordered the door closed and closed the slot on the ballot box herself. The chairman allowed me to observe the entire closing and counting process from within the station.

The station staff carried out the closing and counting with well-rehearsed precision, struggling a bit only with the proper packaging of the voter materials and paperwork after the counting process was complete. At that point they referred repeatedly to the manual to try to get it correct. Unlike previous elections, nobody seemed to have any problems identifying, applying or removing any of the ziplock seals.

The counting process was carried out efficiently and transparently. Per procedure, as the ballots were counted the chairman read the ballot, announced the party number loudly and held up each ballot individually so that observers could see the ballot. The party observers stood behind the chairman and appeared to watch the ballots carefully. I stood further away and was not able to read the ballots. It appeared to me that the chairman was counting rather quickly at time, but the observers were still given the opportunities to see each ballot and could object or ask to see the ballot again at any time. The observers did ask to see ballots a second time on 4 or 5 occasions, especially when a party other than 4 or 7 was called. The chairman and observers also stopped to discuss spoiled ballots 2 or 3 times, but all questions seemed to be resolved to the satisfaction of the observers.

Two counters ticked off the votes as they were counted – one sat immediately opposite the chairman ticking votes on an official form and another stood at the front of the counting station ticking votes on a large pre-prepared sheet of paper that all present could view easily.

At the end of the counting the chairman completed her paperwork,  prepared 1104 forms recording the results and provided 1104 forms to all of the observers and myself. The 1104 provided to me was complete except that the count was not totaled.

The chairman announced that the count was complete. Shortly thereafter the observers departed, but I remained and watch the rest of the process including the completion of the paperwork, the packaging of the paperwork and voter materials, the preparation of materials for transport to the CEC. I watched all of the materials secured to the back of a motorcycle. Motorcycles bearing the materials from the other two nearby stations arrived and the three waited for security escort. Within 5 minute two armed police with special election armbands arrived on motorcycle and escorted the group of three polling station motorcycles to the Commune Election Commission (CEC) collection point about 3 kilometers away. I followed the convoy to the CEC and watched them deliver their packages to the CEC.

The results at my station were:
Party 1 = 4
Party 2 = 32
Party 3 = 0
Party 4 (CPP) = 230
Party 5 = N/A
Party 6 = 4
Party 7 (CNRP) = 207
Party 8 = 3
Invalid ballots = 4

Though I wasn’t present at the counting at the two nearby stations, reportedly at one station the CPP beat the CNRP by 15 votes and at the other station CNRP beat the CPP by 7. A very close vote.

Completed Form 1104 from counting station I attended