A tour of Phnom Penh’s Ly Van Hong printing house ended on a tense note Thursday when political party representatives voiced concerns over the National Election Committee’s handling of the ballot printing process.
The NEC invited political parties, election monitors and the media to visit the Tuol Kok district printing company where the ballot papers are to be printed for the 2007 Commune Councils Election.
But when visitors arrived at the firm Thursday morning, 2 million printed ballots were already arranged in waist-high stacks next to whirring presses that were churning more.
Party members and monitors said they were surprised and dismayed to discover that the printing of 8 million ballots for April’s commune elections had begun Jan 24, a full week before they toured the company. They then asked to be allowed to monitor the printing process, a request the NEC has denied.
Khan Keomono, deputy director of the NEC’s public information department, said it was in line with NEC policy and the rules of the printing house not to allow monitors to observe the printing. Ly Van Hong also produced ballots for national elections in 2003 and for the 2006 Senate elections, NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said.
Chiv Vibol, secretary-general of the Democratic Society Party, said that ballots printed before officials were given a tour of the printing house should be invalidated. “We should not use the ballots,” he said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that printing errors on ballots have led to trouble in previous elections.
“The NEC must allow constant observation and inspection from experts,” he wrote in a statement.
Tep Nytha defended the NEC’s decision on ballot printing, saying it had informed party officials and the public as is required by law.
Tarikul Ghani, director of programs at the National Democratic Institute, said that everything in the electoral process should be open to monitoring by political parties, who have a vested interest.
“The only secret thing in an election is the secrecy of the vote,” he said.