After setting a date this week for next year’s commune elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen used a speech on Wednesday to urge officials to speed up work to ensure that 2 million people without new identification cards are able to obtain one by election day on June 4, 2017.
Coming amid claims by the opposition that the ruling party is already spoiling the possibility of a fair election with a spate of arrests and legal action against opposition figures, Mr. Hun Sen said he was committed to making sure everyone could vote, including himself.
“I hope that all relevant officials, especially our authorities in charge of issuing identification cards, will issue identification cards for more than 2 million [citizens] as fast as possible to allow them to be eligible for voter registration,” he said. “Even I have to register again.”
With election monitors and the National Election Committee (NEC) itself reporting that more than 1 million names were either missing or listed twice in the disputed 2013 national election, the reformed NEC has set about building a new voter list.
New identification cards with bio-data will allow citizens to vote using electronic equipment supplied by the E.U., which is set to be delivered in July. The cards are part of an overhaul of the electoral process agreed to in a 2014 political deal between the CPP and CNRP.
Also announcing on Wednesday that the next national election would be held on July 22, 2018, Mr. Hun Sen said he hoped to prevent claims of electoral manipulation.
“It’s not a small issue,” he said. “Who will be responsible for accusations that 1.5 or 1.2 million people had their names missing?”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he was happy to hear the prime minister’s registration plea. He said the opposition party had been working on the ground since the new identification cards were made available.
“We travel house to house to knock on doors and ask people to apply for ID cards. If they don’t have the proper documents, we help them to go to competent authorities,” he said, adding that local party leaders are asked to help pay for poor residents to go through the process.
Mr. Sovann added, however, that registering voters was not itself enough to ensure proper elections.
“There are a lot of factors,” he said. “The political environment is a very important factor contributing to free and fair elections.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)