Diplomats Say Election Problems Need Addressing

Diplomatic observers of Sun­day’s commune elections found the polls to be generally peaceful and orderly, but noted technical problems that should be addres­sed before the 2008 national elections, embassy officials said Wednesday.

The Canadian Embassy said that extremely low rates of voter turnout in some parts of the country should be investigated, while a US Embassy spokesman said that some voters were confused by the voting process.

An official at the Swedish Em­bassy, however, said that voters seemed familiar with the voting process, while the French Em­bassy said that observers found no major problems.

Local monitoring groups said Tuesday that changes to the voter registration process created confusion for many registered voters, and that this may be one reason why voter turnout was so low. Monitors and a Japanese observer also said that mistakes in the official voter list prevented some from voting.

Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie wrote in an e-mail that while voter information notices may have caused confusion, “I…doubt that this is a major cause that explains the low voter turnout.”

Overall low turnout is of less concern than the “extremely low voter turnout in some parts of the country,” Pottie wrote.

“I hope that there will be some research to look into those regions of Cambodia where voter turnout was under 30 percent to determine why so many eligible voters decided against voting,” Pottie wrote.

Voting monitors with the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elections have reported a 30 percent voter turnout in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet commune, and 50 percent turnout across Banteay Meanchey. Poipet, which was headed by an SRP commune chief in 2002, is now headed by the CPP. The SRP is cal­ling for a re­vote in the commune and has rejected the results.

According to preliminary statistics, voter turnout was also ap­proximately 50 percent in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville municipalities and in Battam­bang, Ratanakkiri and Koh Kong pro­vinces, said Mar Sophal, Comfrel monitoring coordinator.

The National Election Commit­tee said Wednesday that the unofficial national average for voter turnout Sunday was 67 percent. Official figures will not be available until April 24 after the official complaint period.

While many established democracies have experienced low voter turnout in recent decades, voter turnout in nationwide Cambodian elections has been well over 80 percent since the Untac-sponsored elections of 1993.

US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said observers are not sure why turnout dropped this election.

“Like others, our observers noted the trend of lower voter turnout than in previous Cambodian elections, but we do not have a clear sense of what were the contributing factors,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But observers did speak to individuals who had trouble finding the polling station where their name was listed or who were confused about the voting process, he added.

“We hope these technical issues can be addressed before next year’s national elections,” Daigle wrote.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said there were “small cases of confusion” on voting day, but that they were not significant enough to affect the election result. Tep Nytha has said that voter apathy and celebrations for a Chinese ancestral holiday could have played a role in low turnout.

Officials at the UN Develop­ment Program, which sourced approximately $1.7 million in funding for the NEC to organize the election, could not be reached for comment.

Thirteen countries sent more than 130 diplomatic observers to watch the commune council elections, according to a Japanese Em­bassy official who coordinated the observers. At least one diplomatic observer was sent to every pro­vince and municipality, the official added. Japan supplied the NEC with nearly $3 million in funding for the 2007 commune elections.

Based on preliminary information, the French Embassy observ­ed no significant problems in the election, according to spokeswoman Fabyene Mansencal.

“There were no major difficulties such as to [affect] the validity of the election,” she wrote in an e-mail.

The Swedish Embassy declin­ed to speculate on the reasons for low voter turnout, and reported very few problems on election day.

“In most polling stations visited it all ran smoothly with some technical problems,” a Swedish Embassy official wrote in an e-mail.


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