STUNG by results showing heavy support at the polls for the royalist opposition, Cambodia's ruling party has appealed for new elections in areas where it claimed fraud had occurred and threatened to refuse to recognize the outcome of the balloting.
"We cannot recognize the result of the election if it is not free and fair," Sok An, deputy chief of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), said at a news conference on June 1.
UN spokesman Eric Falt said that Yasushi Akashi, the United Nations special representative to Cambodia, and other top officials with the UN force discussed the CPP's complaints with party leaders. Mr. Akashi told the party leaders they would have to present evidence to back up their claims of vote fraud before UN officials could consider their protest, Mr. Falt said.
Mr. Sok refused to give specifics of the party's complaints but said they included alleged inconsistencies with ballot records and counting, concerns that seals on some boxes were broken, and a party contention that representatives of the royalist opposition United National Front for an Independent, Peaceful, Neutral, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) had improperly been allowed to enter a compound where ballots were stored.
He refused to say if the party had any evidence of actual tampering with the ballots. The technical discrepancies would not have significant impact on the overall election results.
The allegations raised the first serious doubt about the legitimacy of the elections that drew 89 percent of registered voters to the polls and were quickly declared free and fair by top UN officials, clearing the way for recognition by individual nations.
The elections - the country's first multiparty ballot in 21 years - were part of a $2 billion UN plan to bring peace and democracy to Cambodia after two decades of war and turmoil.
UN officials rejected the CPP's demand for new elections in the capital of Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kompong Chhnang, Prey Veng, and Battambang.
In the first substantial results released from Kompong Cham, the country's most populous province, UN officials said that with 40 percent of the ballots counted, FUNCINPEC had 139,898 votes, or 56 percent. The CPP had 79,040, or 32 percent. Those results indicated the CPP was headed for a bitter defeat in Kompong Cham, which will have 18 seats in the new 120-member assembly.
With 60 percent of regular ballots counted nationwide, FUNCINPEC had received 984,157 or 42.3 percent support, compared with CPP's 886,640 votes for 37.2 percent. But those figures do not give a clear indication of the likely makeup of the future assembly, because seats will be allocated by province, not according to proportional representation nationwide.
Eighteen other parties also ran candidates in the elections, but they were running far behind the leaders.
The areas being disputed by the CPP account for 33 of the assembly seats to be allocated based on results of UN-monitored elections held last week.
The Cambodian peace process has nearly collapsed several times because of the failure to disarm combatants, political violence and intimidation attributed largely to the ruling party during the election campaign, and brutal pre-election attacks by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, who originally signed the accord in 1991 but later pulled out and boycotted the voting.
The move toward an election protest by the CPP reflected growing uneasiness within the leadership over the prospects of relinquishing control of the country or being forced to share power with the royalist FUNCINPEC. The party leadership, which controls the military and police, could cause major problems by refusing to cooperate with the new government in providing security and administration of the country during the transition of power.