Elections Set, But NEC’s Funding Rejected

The Council of Ministers has formally set a date for commune el­ec­tions but has rejected the Na­tional Election Committee’s $24 million budget request.

Prime Minister Hun Sen told the council Friday that the money was needed for other things. He sug­gested the NEC revise its request, adding that $15 million was a more realistic figure.

He complained that foreign donors, who have urged the government to speed up the local elections, haven’t provided the cash to hold them.

“Many donors have pledged and pledged, but we haven’t got anything,” the premier said be­fore the discussion started.

UN Development Program spokes­man John Brittain said it was too early to say whether donors would pay for the ballot.

Hun Sen suggested Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng go to Eu­rope to visit donors and push the issue. He also urged Finance Minister Keat Chhon and Minis­ter of Cabinet Sok An to raise election funding at the annual donors meeting in Tokyo in June.

“We must continue to try harder, because commune elections need too much money,” he said.

The council also rejected a re­quest for $1.3 million for pre-election planning, agreeing in­stead to a budget of $769,230, de­spite earlier claims by NEC of­fi­cials that money problems are the biggest threat to the election schedule.

Sek Sophal of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections compared arbitrarily slashing the budget to ignoring measurements when cutting fabric for a dress.

“They already have a plan for the election, but they don’t have any money,” he said. “How can they run the election fairly?”

He reiterated Hun Sen’s appeal to donors. If that fails, he suggested staggering the elections, pol­ling in just five or 10 provinces at first and holding more elections as money becomes available.

In the meeting, the cabinet set the elections for February 3, 2002.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Interior held exams in Koh Kong province to fill 41 remaining slotsfor commune clerks, said Sak Setha, of the Inter­ior’s administration department.

(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)


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