Election monitors say they are doubtful the Cambodian government will be able to hold communal elections at the end of this year as planned, citing an incomplete election law draft and a commune administration law draft that has yet to be debated in the National Assembly.
Scheduled to be held in December, the elections will likely have to be delayed until at least January or February of 2001 if election laws are not finalized by the end of March, said Sek Sophal, executive director of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections.
Even with the laws in place, government officials predict it will take at least another nine or 10 months to put the countrywide election apparatus in place.
Elections of new commune leadership will be held in all of Cambodia’s more than 1,600 communes.
At a two-day conference held Monday and Tuesday on government decentralization—a key theme in the communal elections which are meant to give local officials more authority—Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng only said the laws should be finished “in the near future.”
National Assembly Secretary-General Kol Pheng said Monday that parliamentarians have not received any draft laws, and he did not know when these were expected to be debated.
But election monitors acknowledged that these delays could lead to a more thorough electoral process—giving the government time to prepare for what is predicted to be a massive logistical undertaking.
According to Sek Sophal, pushing the elections back a few months could also give groups like Coffel more time to educate Cambodian citizens about elections rights—particularly in the provinces, where leaders were installed, often as long ago as the early 1980s.
“People don’t understand elections in the communes,” Sek Sophal said, explaining that widespread ignorance of the anticipated communal ballots exists in rural areas.