EU Draft Memo Defended Voter List Margin of Error

Audits of the voter list that claimed that up to 1 million people could lose their right to vote in the July 28 national election were attributed to an “unavoidable margin of error” due to many citizens not having national identity cards or a permanent address, the European Union (E.U.) opined in a draft memo obtained Monday.

The draft memo, which was compiled to brief E.U. experts currently in the country to monitor the pre- and post-election climate, also stated that the voter list audits—conducted by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel)—were misleading in their assessment of the quality of the voter list’s accuracy.

“A strong debate on the quality of the voters’ lists has been triggered early May by the publication of two evaluation reports by NGOs (one U.S. and one Cambodian). The analysis of these reports by the delegation leads to a position of extreme caution on their conclusions, some being clearly misleading,” the E.U. memo states.

The memo, which was not signed by an author or dated, goes on to say that responsibility for any flaws in the voter list should not lie solely with the Na­tional Election Committee (NEC).

“All those difficulties and weaknesses also have to be seen in the local context of Cambodia. In this country, many citizens do not have either an ID card, or a permanent address, or both, and the rate of internal migration is very high,” states the E.U. memo.

“This natural and administrative situation will continue to be responsible, whatever the efforts of the NEC could be, of an unavoidable margin of error. It is not possible at this stage to assess what proportion of such error is ‘man-made’ and what is unavoidable under current circumstances,” it adds.

In a 58-page audit released in early April, Comfrel found that about 1.25 million voters would likely lose their right to vote on July 28 because 13.5 percent of registered voters could not find their names on the voter list.

In another report released the month before, the NDI found that the names of more than 9 percent of past voters had been unfairly removed from the voter list and that the list also contained the names of people who do not exist.

Both organizations found that the NEC was culpable for the litany of errors, and called for the body to rectify the flaws. The two groups also called on the NEC to allow independent observers to stand behind election clerks on voting day and to give the responsibility of compiling the voter list to an independent body not stacked with CPP loyalists, of which the NEC has long been accused.

Asked Monday about the views expressed in its draft memo, a representative from the E.U. delegation in Phnom Penh said that the draft had since been updated and now did not include any of the above points of view regarding the voter list.

“Drafts of the Terms of Reference not cleared by the EU’s hierarchy were unfortunately circulated several weeks ago,” Pok Poun, the E.U. delegation’s press and information officer, said in an email. “The final Terms of Reference do not contain the elements mentioned in your questions.”

NDI country director Laura Thornton said she was “sorry” the E.U. had expressed such negative views on the back of its audit of the voter list.

“The Voter Registration Audit (VRA) is based on standard, globally-applied methodology,” Ms. Thornton said in an email. “The VRA focuses on facts, not opinion, and gives an objective measure of a country’s voter list based on three criteria—comprehensiveness, validity, and accuracy.

“These criteria are recognized in­ternational measurements among election management bodies. NDI’s VRA report simply presents the data from the audit findings, without spec­ulation to cause or any subjective assumptions,” Ms. Thornton said.

Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said he would have appreciated receiving some feedback from the E.U. in the wake of the release of Comfrel’s audit report.

“I never received any comment from the E.U. about this,” he said. “They should give comment and feedback to me immediately. They always call me to present them with findings and concern about recommendations.”

The E.U. is not participating in the national election as a formal observer. Instead, the E.U.’s election expert mission, which began Friday, will see just two people collecting information, assessing the pre- and post-election climate and following up on previous E.U. recommendations made after the last national election in 2008.

Just last week, the E.U. issued a carefully worded statement urging the government to ensure that the elections are “transparent and credible,” to which the Foreign Ministry responded rapidly and harshly, accusing the E.U. of interfering in Cambodia’s affairs.

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