Low Registration Brings Call for Extension

More than half the country’s eligible voters have registered, 10 days before the registration period expires, the National Election Commission said Mon­day.

NEC officials would not say if they plan to extend the registration period, saying they cannot know until they see how many people register between now and Aug 16, when the registration period ends.

“We have 10 days more. We will decide after 10 days where we are and what we must do,” said Prum Nhean Vichet, chairman of the NEC’s media subcommittee and one of six NEC officials who fielded questions at a news conference at NEC headquarters.

There are 6,251,832 people across the country who are eligible to vote in February’s commune council elections. So far, 53 percent—or 3,318,768—have registered, the NEC said.

Critics say that number is too low for this late in the registration period, while some voters say they weren’t able to register because of strict rules or confusing instructions. Factory workers in the Phnom Penh area in particular have said it is hard for them to get time off work to return home to their native villages to reg­ister, as the NEC required initially. Starting this month, however, the NEC relaxed those rules, allowing factory workers, civil servants, students, soldiers, police and others living away from home to register at a site near where they work.

Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said some factory workers were having difficulties registering away from their home villages.

“I am worried about the workers. They are not always able to get the time off work,” he said.

Sam Rainsy Party members have urged the NEC to keep a reg­istration office open in each commune until everyone who wants to register can do so.

NEC officials conceded Mon­day that there have been problems, but blamed such problems on the bigger scale of this year’s elections and their own small budget.

“This registration is so much more difficult than in 1993 and 1998, because in Untac there was so much money and so many people to help. And in 1998, the European Union provided half the money, we just provided the people. This time, we do everything ourselves,” Prum Nhean Vichet said.

Several donor nations have offered to help pay for the elections, estimated to cost $18 million, but the money has not yet arrived, NEC officials said. The Cambodian government has put up $1.7 million to cover registration costs. The NEC also miscalculated the amount of supplies needed to manufacture new voting cards, authorities said. Officials estimated that about half the voters would still have the cards they used in 1993 or 1998 and would not need new ones.

But voters apparently want the new cards, causing registration offices to run out of photographic film and plastic and forcing one registration site to shut down, authorities said.

Flooding in some parts of the country has also forced the NEC to relocate some registration offices to higher ground, confusing voters. In some cases, floodwaters damaged supplies and equipment. NEC officials said they have received complaints about violence, and that while they deplore it, it is the responsibility of local officials to maintain order.

 

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