National Election Committee Secretary-General Im Suorsdei said Tuesday there are no commune or village chiefs on any polling station commissions.
Im Suorsdei said he had surveyed the lists of polling staff drawn up by all 22 provincial election commissions and found, contrary to popular belief, not one commune or village chief’s name.
“Some parties have said that most polling station commission staff come from the commune chiefs,” Im Suorsdei said. “Please, we would like to know, which commune?”
Opposition parties have worried that many polling stations will be staffed by CPP-appointed local authorities, who dominate the provincial and commune election commissions but have sworn to be neutral. Critics say that having CPP appointees, some of them powerful local chiefs, on the polling commissions would intimidate voters and could open the election to fraud.
However, Im Suorsdei said it appears most provincial commissions have followed the NEC’s instructions to ensure that polling staff are neutral. Commune and village authorities are not supposed to be hired, even if they have resigned their posts. “If they resigned for a year or more, maybe OK, but not resigned for one day,” Im Suorsdei said.
Most of the polling staff, he said, are teachers.
The news was greeted with cautious optimism by Funcinpec Campaign Manager May Sam Oeun. “We hope it is true because according to the election law and the ethics of the election, the people should be neutral,” he said, adding that his party has not seen the list of polling staff.
“We really cannot say anything about that. What we know is the [provincial election commissions] and [communal election commissions] have been packed by members of the ruling party. It may go down to the polling stations.”
A wary Sam Rainsy Party aide said he, too, would like to see the list and that the NEC should release it to the UN-coordinated Joint International Observer Group.
“I suppose it’s conceivable that he could be telling the truth,” the aide said of Im Suorsdei. “But they have operated a very closed process where it is very difficult to get information. It’s too late to check it. It’s too late to know anything about it.”