More than 20,000 people have registered as independent observers for the upcoming commune elections—far more than five years ago—with three weeks still to go until the enrollment deadline.
Hang Puthea, a spokesman for the National Election Committee (NEC), which is running the June 4 poll, said that since mid-February, just over 20,540 independent observers had registered to watch over the 22,000 polling stations. About 100 of them are from abroad, mostly from the U.S. and E.U.
“Election observers are the key witnesses of the election process because they are independent, so they are neutral of political parties as well as the NEC,” he said.
Observers are allowed to watch over the election day proceedings, but cannot intervene if they spot potential irregularities, Mr. Puthea said.
“It means they cannot make complaints or protests if they see anything, but they can report it later and describe what happened at this or that polling station,” he said.
With three weeks to go until the May 24 registration deadline, the number of observers already outweighs that of 2012, when fewer than 15,000 people signed up.
Mr. Puthea said the increase might reflect growing trust in the NEC, which underwent a significant overhaul in 2014 meant to tone down what many consider the ruling CPP’s undue influence over the election process.
“I think it’s because they want to work with the NEC because they have confidence in the NEC,” he said. “Second, some of them might want to get into politics later,” he said, and work as observers for the experience.
The observers are separate from the so-called party agents the political parties themselves sign up to watch the polls. NEC rules allow each party to register one agent per polling station and one reserve.
The CPP and the opposition CNRP, the ruling party’s main rival in these elections, have both announced plans to have agents at nearly every polling station.
It will be the first commune election contested by the CNRP, which was born from the merger of the rival Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party in mid-2012.