Election Critics Decry Burning of Used Ballots

More than 15 million used ballot papers from the 1998 national and 2002 commune elections will soon burn in the kilns of a Kandal prov­ince brick factory, much to the chagrin of critics of the electoral pro­cess.

National Election Committee Se­cretary-General Tep Nitha said Tuesday that the ballots—which take up half of a warehouse in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district

—would be burned on Saturday to comply with election laws.

Commune election ballots must be destroyed after a mandatory waiting period of one year, and general election ballots after four, ex­cept in cases of contested validity.

Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang condemned the decision, saying that the opposition’s allegations of electoral fraud have not been sufficiently ad­dres­sed.

“I think they want to eliminate evidence of election fraud,” he said. “The NEC should solve our complaints first.”

Tep Nitha said that the NEC was fulfilling its duty.

“The NEC isn’t the one who makes the decision,” he said. “We just implement the law.”

Committee for Free and Fair Elec­tions Director Koul Panha suggested that the NEC involve all political parties in a transparent au­dit of the ballots, and then recycle them to protect the environment.

“If the NEC destroys ballots without transparency, political parties will be suspicious,” Koul Panha said.

“That’s a lot of paper,” he added. “If they can recycle it, they can make some money.”

Tep Nitha said his search for a company to recycle the ballots had been unsuccessful, so the NEC will spend approximately $10,000 to burn them.

He added that the original cost to purchase the 2002 ballots was ap­proximately $430,000, but he did not know what the UN Development Program had paid for the 1998 ballots.

The NEC debated doing something else with the ballots but decided it had potential dangers, Tep Nitha said.

“Other methods would be difficult to control, so we decided to burn it in an oven,” he said.

“We are afraid that people could use the ballots for political reasons.”

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