Cambodia postpones release of election results

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s state election body said Friday it will postpone its announcement of final results from last month’s general election, a move that could ease fears of violence over opposition protests.

The National Election Committee made the announcement after the government acknowledged moving armored vehicles and troops into the capital, Phnom Penh, to keep order if a threatened mass protest by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party spins out of control.

The opposition has challenged the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s claim of winning the July 28 election, saying there were widespread electoral irregularities. It has said it will reject the results unless there is an independent probe.

The NEC had planned to release the results on Saturday, but said it will delay their announcement because its own investigation of irregularities has not been completed. Final results were to be ratified four days later if not challenged, or on Sept. 8 if official protests were filed.

There were other signs Friday of a move toward compromise, as the NEC said it is willing to consider establishing a special commission to probe election complaints, and the two contending parties agreed in principle to accept such a body.

A similar arrangement was agreed upon a week ago, but was scuttled when the opposition declined to take part because it would not include representatives of the United Nations and civic groups. The NEC said then that such representatives could serve only as observers, not members of the commission.

Provisional results favor the ruling party’s claim that it won 68 of the 123 National Assembly seats against the opposition’s 55. Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he will take office again if those results stand.

The opposition says it won 63 seats. Both projections represent a substantial gain from the 29 seats the opposition had in the last assembly.

Hun Sen’s tough reputation has raised fears he might use force to quash any protests, so Phnom Penh residents were concerned by the increased military presence in the city.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the government deployed military forces in response to the threat by opposition leader Sam Rainsy to call a massive demonstration if his party’s demand for an impartial investigation is not met.

The opposition party says there must be a probe of incorrect names and locations on electoral rolls. It charges that voter registrations were manipulated so that more than 1 million people may have been denied their right to vote. Several nonpartisan groups have supported the claim.

Sar Kheng said he did not know whether Sam Rainsy “is able to control the demonstrators or not.”

“The government has no intention to intimidate the people but the government has a duty to preserve the country’s security and peace,” he said, adding that the additional forces would not be used if the proposed demonstration was conducted lawfully.

The nonpartisan Cambodian Center for Human Rights on Friday endorsed the establishment of a special electoral commission and called for calm.

“During this tense time it is extremely important for CNRP and CPP leaders to call on their supporters to remain calm and to refrain from violence and inflammatory speech. Cambodian people have the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and these rights should be upheld,” the group’s president, Ou Virak, said in a statement.

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