Come voting day on June 4, at least 15,000 independent observers recruited by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel) will be on duty at polling stations to ensure that voters feel free to cast their votes as they wish.
This small army of neutral observers will oversee the country’s 22,148 commune-election polling stations, said Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel.
“Around 40 NGOs work together with us in order to mobilize observers, to recruit observers, to train observers, to deploy observers,” he said during a wide-ranging interview with The Cambodia Daily yesterday.
Found through a lengthy process to make sure of their impartiality, they will observe both the voting process and ballot counting afterward, he said.
This effort as well as Comfrel’s radio and online talk shows have one goal: “to encourage voters to be confident in the election process,” Mr. Panha said.
Asked about party tactics such as Prime Minister Hun Sen recently warning that his
CPP party’s defeat could plunge the country into civil war, Mr. Panha pointed out that politicians around the world often draw on people’s fears to sway votes in electoral campaigns.
But people must trust the electoral process and vote as they see fit, he said. “We have to believe in the elections: Elections contribute to stability in this country.”
On younger voters, Mr. Panha said they could play a crucial role in the outcome of the elections.
“According to voter lists, I think 35 percent of voters are youths from 18 to 30. Actually they are 40 percent of eligible voters but many of them did not come to register,” probably being migrant workers unable to return to the country to do so, he said.
The 18- to 30-year-old age group also approaches politics differently from their elders, who have deep rooted loyalties that can be hard to change, Mr. Panha said.
These younger people are like flowing spring water: very hard to grasp and define, he said.
And so far, political parties seem to have wanted to enroll them without giving them a voice in decision-making, he added.