Agents from major political parties competing in April’s commune elections began training this week with the US-funded National Democratic Institute to learn election monitoring techniques.
The series of training courses for 240 party agents from the CPP, the SRP, Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party will continue through February, NDI Country Director Jerome Cheung said.
The three-day courses, which will train 60 members from each of the four parties, focus on basic training in election and voting rules, as well as instruction on how to monitor polling stations, record irregularities and file complaints, he added.
Participants trained by NDI will in turn train thousands of party polling agents who will monitor the country’s 14,428 polling stations in April, NDI Director of Programs Tarikul Ghani said.
“Political parties and candidates have their interests at heart. This self-interest is a powerful motivation to ensure that the rules of the election are followed,” Cheung said.
On Wednesday, 30 members each from the CPP, SRP and Funcinpec culminated their three days of training with a roleplay inside three suites at a Phnom Penh hotel that had been converted into mock polling stations.
The unscripted roleplays, in which party agents acted the parts of election officials, voting monitors, security guards and voters, were designed to test what agents had learned about voting procedure, Cheung said.
Inside the SRP “station,” a voter caused alarm when he approached election officials armed with a dinner knife. Election officials inside the Funcinpec station reprimanded a high-ranking official’s wife who attempted to jump the queue, while officials at the CPP station turned away a pregnant voter whose name did not appear on the list.
Cheung said that political parties took away different lessons from the course—and came up with different themes for the roleplays—based on their own experiences.
“For [the CPP, knowledge of] the polling process is useful to defend themselves, whereas the SRP is in a different position: They often bring charges” of voting irregularities, he said.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha praised NDI’s training program, but said that smaller political parties had complained that they were not receiving training.
“They said what NDI is doing is biased,” he added.
Cheung said that NDI is training the four parties that are running in a majority of the country’s communes, and that smaller parties will be given copies of an NDI-produced manual on polling station procedure.