NEC Slices Staff as Group Urges Recounts

As the cash-poor National Elec­tion Committee moved to reduce its staff, one of the main election watchdog groups urged it to re­sume recounts of disputed communes and warned that not doing so could jeopardize the overall credibility of the polls.

By the end of this month, the NEC will have reduced its staff nationwide from about 15,000 to only about 200, according to Chhay Kim, the chairman of the NEC finance committee.

Most of those employees were at the commune level and their work has been completed, he said Tuesday. He denied the staff reduction is due to budget problems.

But Chhay Kim did confirm the NEC is still about $1 million short on funding for its $29 million budget and is scrambling to find the cash.

NEC Information Officer Leng Sochea said the shortfall means that many of the polling station and counting center staff have not been paid yet.

“Up to now, we have no sal­aries for them,” Leng Sochea said. “They will be paid, but it may take time.”

Chhay Kim said the NEC requested $1 million more from a UN Development Program trust fund set up for international donations for the elections but was told the fund is depleted.

“We wrote to the EU also asking them to help us,” Chhay Kim added. “We haven’t had a reply yet.”

He said the NEC is still hoping a last-minute donor might bridge the gap.

“If we don’t find the money, we have to ask our government but we know our government also lacks money,” Chhay Kim said.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections issued a statement Tuesday decrying “serious deficiencies in the treatment of complaints and recounting of ballots.”

“These deficiencies threaten to undermine the important work which has been achieved in the election process,” Coffel Presi­dent Meng Ho Leang wrote in the statement.

The NEC recounted eight communes the week after the July 26 elections but stopped the process after three days and later rejected more than 300 election complaints.

The Constitutional Council now has the appeals of those complaints.

The Coffel statement called for the NEC to resume recounting for communes where people had complained there were not enough observers allowed to monitor the original count.

Coffel also recommended new elections in some disputed areas.

“We understand that these measures will entail significantly more work by the NEC and the Constitutional Council,” Meng Ho Leang wrote. “However, we consider them necessary to ensure that complaints be put to rest….This is necessary to social peace.”

Leng Sochea said the NEC has no plans to resume recounting and that it would only do so if ordered by the Constitutional Council.

“We already recounted eight communes,” he said.

“If these eight [communes] did not have any irregularities, we cannot continue. We have no more time.”

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