Identification Complaints Force NEC to Issue Order

Widespread complaints of prospective voters being turned away from registration centers forced the National Election Committee to issue strict orders Wednesday that no one with proper identification be prevented from registering.

NEC president Chheng Phon went on national television and radio Wednesday afternoon to order registration teams to register anyone who arrives with proper identification, regardless of where they live, according to an NEC spokesman.

Among those rejected at registration centers this week were several Sam Rainsy bodyguards and Say Bory, president of the Cambodian Bar Association.

Say Bory said he tried to register in three places but was told at each that he must wait for a center to open closer to his home.

“They said I must wait for the chief of the village to lead me to the station,” he said Wednesday.

Say Bory said he fears the practice is a way of making sure most of those registered are shepherded in by village and commune officials, most of whom are CPP.

“Before, I think there is a misunderstanding about the thumb­prints, but now I think different,” he said, referring to the CPP’s controversial membership drive. “There have been many problems all over the country. I think this is a bad strategy…to keep some people out of the electoral process.”

However, NEC vice president Kassie Neou said Wednesday the irregularities were caused by confusion, not corruption.

“Stuff like that did happen here and there because of a misunderstanding on the part of our registration teams. From this point on, that  will not happen,” he said.

The main problem, Kassie Neou said, was some registration teams did not know about a May 8 amendment to the electoral law allowing people to register anywhere, as long as they have the proper identification and come back to the same place to vote.

Regulations previously stated that voters must register in the polling place assigned to their village or commune.

“Somehow the information [about the change] did not go fast enough to the provincial commissions,” Kassie Neou said, adding that the NEC desperately needs a radio communications system and vehicles.

He said the change was made to make it easier for people to register, because each registration center would be open for only three days at a time.

However, some have said they worry that the new system leaves the door open for people to register in multiple polling places and later vote in all of them, distorting the election results.

“It was my impression when I registered that if I wanted to go to multiple places and register, I think I could,” said Chea Van­nath, vice president of the Cen­ter for Social Development and a member of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections.

While acknowledging that people could easily register in several different places, Kassie Neou said the NEC’s computer registration listings are designed to pick up such attempts at fraud.

“Our secretary-general went on television informing the public that they are not allowed to register in more than one place. There will be a computer check and if anyone is caught there will be criminal penalties,” Kassie Neou said.

Only three days into the 28-day registration period, the process has already generated controversy, with opposition leaders claiming their supporters are being screened out by local election authorities.

Outspoken former finance minister Sam Rainsy has been complaining the most about the al­leged irregularities, and he claimed proof Wednesday when 28 of his bodyguards and supporters were turned away from a registration center in Phnom Penh.

Electoral officials at the So­thea­ros Primary School in Phnom Penh effectively shut down their operation—90 minutes before the scheduled closing time—when Sam Rainsy and his supporters arrived, Agence France-Presse  reported.

Only nine bodyguards, Sam Rainsy’s wife, Tioulong Saumura, and one supporter were allowed to complete the registration pro­cess before officials shut down the office, citing technical problems including lack of light for a Polaroid camera. The camera had a working flash unit, an AFP reporter saw.

“This is the kind of harassment we are subject to all the time,” Sam Rainsy said. “If this is happening in Phnom Penh, imagine what is happening in the countryside.”

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