Citizens with complaints about the voter registration system now have a new way to voice them: In a mock courtroom established by the National Election Committee, with NEC Chairman Im Suosdey playing judge and aspiring voters as plaintiffs.
On Thursday, Tuol Kok district resident Pov Sorphan was the first to appear before the court. She accused an official in her commune of blocking her attempt to register. The clerk wrongly deemed a document proving her nationality and residency in the commune insufficient, she said.
Pov Sorphan’s case was thrown out of court.
“The rejection was correct,” Im Suosdey said. “The plaintiff doesn’t have enough evidence to prove her nationality.”
Pov Sorphan claimed that on Jan 23 she went to her Boeng Salang commune registration station, accompanied by two friends who were to act as witnesses for her. She said commune clerk Kuch Bunarith disregarded the document signed by her commune chief that certified her nationality and residency in the commune.
Instead, Pov Sorphan claimed the clerk began to fire questions at her. “Do you have a husband yet?” she said she was asked. “What did you do before?”
“Please answer truthfully, because you could end up in prison if you answer wrongly,” Pov Sorphan claimed the clerk told her. Confused and intimidated, the orphaned garment factory worker fainted on the floor of the commune office, her friend and neighbor Meas Samoeun said.
The “trial” took place in an office of the NEC, and lasted about an hour. As in a real courtroom, members of the audience were required to stand when Im Suosdey and the four members of the NEC acting as jury entered. An NEC lawyer questioned the plaintiff; Pov Sorphan was represented by Sam Rainsy Party member Ly Sokvechea on behalf of her commune chief, Meng Sreang—also an opposition member.
Commune clerk Kuch Bunarith did not attend the ceremony, saying he was busy working. Contacted later on Thursday, Kuch Bunarith denied frightening Pov Sorphan into unconsciousness. “She fainted because she is sick,” he said.
Kuch Bunarith also defended his decision to reject Pov Sorphan’s attempt to register.
“If she has enough documents, I will register her,” he said. “There is no advantage for me not to.”