Census Data Used in Poll Registration

The governor of Ratanakkiri province said Tuesday he is using a list of names of eligible voters obtained from census officials—a direct violation of a royal decree assuring the head count’s confidentiality.

Governor Kep Chuk Tema said last week in an interview at his office that he had census figures for the total population of Rata­nakkiri province as well as the number of eligible voters, far be­fore census officials are due to release such information.

When quizzed twice about the matter by phone on Monday and Tuesday, the governor admitted to having taken the names and ages of eligible voters from pro­vincial census officials. He said he is using the data to find citizens eligible for voter registration.

King Norodom Sihanouk sign­ed the Cambodian Royal Decree on the Census on Feb 29, 1996, assuring that answers given during the March 3-12 census would be kept confidential. With the decree in hand, the census launched a $470,000 publicity campaign, funded by the UN Population Fund, to convince citizens they had nothing to fear from enumerators and that their names, gathered for verification purposes only, would not be linked to any of the data.

There was also a great deal of publicity assuring residents the census was not connected to voter registration, the July 26 election or the gathering of taxes.

“I know about the royal decree preventing the data from being released,” Kep Chuk Tema said.

An official with the National Election Committee said that the committee would  contact the Ra­ta­nak­kiri provincial government about the matter. “We cannot use census information for voter registration….It’s not legal,” he said.

Census spokesman Hou Taing Eng said Tuesday it was impossible for the governor to have the results. “You should ask the Ratanak­kiri governor who gave him the results,” he said, and abruptly ended the interview.

Kep Chuk Tema said Tuesday that a provincial census official passed on the information soon after the census ended March 12. He refused to name the official.

The governor said there were 95,155 people in Ratanakkiri province, and 54,000 of them were of voting age.

“I am the one who led the census committee that gathered all the names and numbers of people….Only my province completely succeeded in counting the people,” the governor claimed.

Officials have said a preliminary head count will not be ready until June. The initial information will not include ages, which could be used to determine a voter’s eligibility. That data likely will not be released until 1999.

A UN official, who did not wish to be named, said he doubted the governor would be capable of ta­bulating the results of the census.

“We have 60 to 80 people working on the [preliminary data] now. How the governor got those [calculations], it’s a miracle. If I knew how he did it, I would take the same technique so I could speed up the publication of the results.”

Kep Chuk Tema said his staff compiled the results using calculators. (Additional reporting by Mhari Saito)

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