Next year’s commune council elections will be held on June 4, according to a decision signed on Tuesday by Prime Minister Hun Sen, marking the first nationwide ballot since the 2013 election that led to the reform of the National Election Committee (NEC).
It will also be the fourth round of voting for commune councilors since the government’s policy of decentralization that established them was announced in the late 1990s, with the previous votes in 2002, 2007 and 2012. All were soundly won by the ruling CPP.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said on Tuesday the reformed elections body had set September 1 as the date when it would start the three-month process of registering about 9.6 million eligible voters to a new electronic national voter list.
Concerns that voters will be unable to get back onto the list because they lack the national identification cards needed to register were being investigated, Mr. Puthea said.
“If there are some special cases occurring, like the Interior Ministry being unable to issue [ID cards] for all those of voting age, the NEC will have other procedures for them to register to vote,” he said.
The start of voter registration has already been delayed four times, leading to complaints about stalling, but Mr. Puthea said on Tuesday that registration equipment that was needed from Europe should arrive in Cambodia by July 15, ending the delay.
The NEC is waiting on 2,400 sets of equipment, consisting of computers, fingerprint scanners, power boards, flash drives and electricity generators, he said.
The last national election in 2013, which the CPP narrowly won, was marred by the presence of hundreds of thousands of double names and missing names on the list. The CNRP protested for almost a year after the election, claiming that voter fraud had cost it a win.
Negotiations with the CPP led to the establishment of the new NEC in April 2015, with equal representation from the CNRP and CPP on a nine-member board, plus a neutral “tie-breaking” member.
Still, the NEC’s old secretary-general, Tep Nytha—a former CPP apparatchik—was reappointed to the same position on the body this year, despite accusations from the CNRP that he had organized the alleged fraud during the 2013 national election.
The CNRP agreed to his reappointment due to the presence of a number of deputy secretaries-general who were acceptable to the party, including the independent Ny Chakrya. However, Mr. Chakrya is now in prison, having been jailed as part of a wide sweep of government critics last month. And one of the CNRP’s appointees to the NEC board, Rong Chhun, is set to go on trial for criminal charges that could see him jailed and removed from the board.
Voter registration and the organization of the commune elections next year is expected to cost about $52.6 million, with the money coming from both the government and donors like the E.U. and Japan.
The fairness of the commune elections next year will be important, with the results setting the stage for a showdown between the CPP and CNRP at the 2018 national election, as well as establishing the makeup of the commune councils until the next elections in 2022.
A 2014 survey by the Asia Foundation found that 49 percent of respondents said government decisions at the commune level affected their lives more than those made at the national level—compared to 27 percent for the reverse, and 22 percent who said both levels of government affected them equally.