The deadline for voter registration in the nation’s first-ever commune elections passed with a nationwide total of 79.08 percent of eligible voters registered, the National Election Committee announced Monday.
The NEC extended the Sunday deadline in three communes where there had been registration problems. Chrouy Stau commune in Battambang province closed Monday, and Nimith and Poipet communes in Banteay Meanchey province will close registration today and Wednesday, respectively. The NEC had previously extended the deadline nationwide from Thursday to Sunday.
Reactions to the results of the monthlong registration period were mixed.
NEC spokesman Leng Sochea and others were pleased with the turnout. “What makes us proud and happy was that the period of registration went peacefully, and the large turnout of the people registered,” Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said.
But many critics continued calling for a 30-day extension to bring registration up to the 90-plus percent levels of the 1993 and 1998 national elections.
Sek Sophal, director of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, called for extensions in several areas of the country where a lack of materials or poorly managed offices kept potential voters from registering.
On Monday morning, Coffel monitors described irregular hours at registration offices and lax or overly stringent clerks, but said the most common problems were a shortage of materials, such as camera film to take photos for voter ID cards, poor transportation and disagreements over nationality of potential voters.
The Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia said in a statement released Sunday that as many as 40 percent of the nation’s 200,000 factory workers had not yet registered to vote.
The union cited harassment, “bad organization” and a shortage of registration materials.
Just under 81 percent of possible voters registered in Phnom Penh, according to Leng Sochea. Regardless of protests, registration will not reopen in the city, he added.
According to the NEC, the lowest turnouts came in Koh Kong (66.38 percent registered) and Sihanoukville (67.76). The highest figures were in Preah Vihear (93.72) and Pursat (93.37).
“Everywhere in the world, 80 percent is the highest. Can you show me one country where they register 100 percent?” Ministry of Information Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith asked.
Khieu Kanharith did agree there was disorganization in the registration process.
“Particularly around the cities, information on when and where to register was hard to find and local officials were less directly in touch with residents,” he said. When he went to register in Phnom Penh, there was no camera film.
“Myself, I had to buy film to get my photo. I bought three rolls,” he said.
The registration process for the February 2002 elections in Cambodia’s 1,621 communes represents the first time the nation has managed its own election since the 1960s.
(Additional reporting by Jody McPhillips)