Independent voter registration monitoring in almost 300 communes around the country found serious breaches of National Election Committee regulations —and the law—taking place at registration centers, the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) said yesterday.
The figures, compiled by Nicfec with the assistance of the US-backed National Democratic Institute (NDI), are the result of 2,990 reports filed from 299 communes from Sept 1 to 10.
The observers found that a new National Election Committee (NEC) regulation allowing the use of expired national ID cards to register to vote was not being universally enforced, with 48 communes, or 16.1 percent of the total monitored, witnessing denial of registration to those presenting expired ID.
A total of 118 communes, or 39.4 percent, allowed at least one person to be registered without being physically present, though the law requires potential voters to register in person. Out of these 118 communes, four allowed more than 10 people in a single day to be registered without coming to the office in person.
NDI Resident Director Laura Thornton, whose organization assisted in the study, said that she had heard reports from observers about voter registration in absentia.
“My understanding is that people would come into the office with several ID cards and register other people without them being there,” Ms Thornton said, adding that such behavior was “against the law.”
The Nicfec report also noted that although 94 percent of registration centers opened at the designated time of 7 am, more than 33 percent of centers closed earlier than the official time of 5 pm.
Following the publication of their monitoring results, Nicfec and NDI recommended that “the NEC enhance its education and oversight process for commune clerks, as many appear not to understand the registration rules and procedures.”
Both groups also called on the NEC to reconsider the role of commune authorities-or any elected body-in the registration process due to an inherent conflict of interest. The vast majority of commune chiefs are members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.
“We believe that handing over authority to the very bodies that are up for election in June is problematic,” Ms Thornton said.
“We recommend that the NEC would reconsider its delegation of authority, said Ms Thornton, who also called on the NEC to put in place a permanent voter registry.
“Ideally this voter registration process would not be in place at all,” she said.
In their report, the groups also called on the NEC to “investigate cases of communes incorrectly denying registration and registering people without proper documentation, and take action against any violations of the law and regulations. This includes sanctioning any commune officials who do not fully perform their duties.”
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha acknowledged that there had been issues with opening times in some commune offices, but he said it was a temporary problem due to flooding that had now been resolved.
On the strongest claims by Nicfec and NDI that commune officials had allowed people register in absentia, Mr Nytha said that only people with incorrect ID had been refused registration, and denied that anyone was allowed to register without being physically present.
“We investigated and found that the wrong paperwork was being used to register in some communes. We did not allow them to use the UNTAC ID or ID of the Kampuchea State to register,” he said.
“We did not allow people to register in place of others.”
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said that the voter registration process in Cambodia is part of a larger problem that permeates the entire election structure.
“The irregularities that are being observed come from a system that is not fair and not neutral,” Ms Sochua said.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on the report, instead referring questions to the NEC whose office are located inside the Interior Ministry compound.
Due to current flooding, the NEC has extended voter registration by three days to Oct 18 in 316 communes, Mr Nytha said.