The government should leave “no stone unturned” in a further search for eligible voters, so that the nation’s first commune elections can be considered free and fair, donors told Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng Monday night.
Meeting with representatives from nearly 20 donor countries and agencies, Sar Kheng played up the success of registration, played down the murders of political candidates, and reminded everyone that the government had spent millions of its own dollars and was waiting for more support from other countries to continue the elections.
Much of the two-hour meeting was devoted to discussing whether the government should reopen some registration sites.
The government was satisfied with the 83.06 percent registration rate of eligible voters, Sar Kheng said. Though the number was lower than in the two previous national elections, he said the logistics involved in reaching every remote commune in the country had been more difficult.
He said the government had overcome those obstacles, as well as a shortage of materials, to register 5,192,885 out of 6,251,832 eligible voters. Sar Kheng called the process “a tremendous success.”
But, some donors were not satisfied that every person who wished to vote in February had been given a chance to register. While the high numbers were encouraging, they said the government should open sites one more time.
“It is important, if we can, to protect the democratic rights” of those who have not registered, British Ambassador Stephen Bridges told Sar Kheng.
“The final, best test of free and fair elections,” said US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann, “is that all Cambodians who wished to register were able to do so.”
The government should consider “one more step to reopen the registration process for one or two days, after spreading [election] awareness, to demonstrate you’ve left no stone unturned” to register everyone who wants to vote, Wiedemann said.
Those statements were supported by donors representing Canada, Sweden and the European Commission.
“Perfection is difficult to achieve in any field, especially politics,” said Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot. He called the 83 percent registration a “very, very impressive performance,” but urged “a little bit more effort.”
If one more step were taken to register voters “nobody would be able to criticize the government in any way” over free and fair elections, Mailhot said.
Sar Kheng said that reopening all the registration sites would be economically impossible, emphasizing that the government had already spent more than $4 million of its own money and money donated from Germany.
“We have a big gap between our [election] plan and our spending,” he said.
If registration were opened again, Sar Kheng pointed out, the question would be what sites to open, and when.
He said the issue would be discussed by the National Election Commission, but the elections could not be delayed.
Wiedemann declined to comment earlier this week on how much the US would contribute to the election through nongovernmental channels.
Japanese Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa told Sar Kheng Monday his government was considering contributing “a sizable amount” to the election process.
The UK is currently considering how much it will give, Bridges said. Both the UK and France said their donations were slow to reach Cambodia, but promised money was on the way.
Sar Kheng also took the opportunity Monday to downplay alleged political violence, telling the donors that in none of the three candidates’ deaths reported so far had politics been determined to be the motive. The killings, he said, were “purely personal conflicts.”
Human rights agencies have reported that three reported slayings in the provinces have been political. The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, which comprises 18 local NGOs, has said the deaths of Sam Rainsy Party commune candidates Touch Voeun and Uch Horn and Funcinpec candidate Meas Soy were all politically motivated.