Registering Rural Voters Problematic

Political observers said Tues­day that three days into the registration process for the 2007 commune elections, they fear many people across the country will be unable to establish their eligibility to vote before the Oct 20 deadline.

Commune officials are turning up late to work to register voters, the observers said, and rural Cambodians are having great difficulty obtaining the official documentation that they need.

Koul Panha, executive director for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said commune officials involved in registration are turning up to work an hour late and leaving early in at least nine provinces. These include Kompong Cham, Kom­pong Chhnang, Koh Kong and Ratanakkiri, he said.

“Commune officials are not respecting procedure,” he said.

Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia, said registration has been a problem for many villagers who do not have photographs of themselves.

If villagers don’t have proof of identity, such as a national identity card, passport or family book with their photo, they need to fill in a form provided by the National Election Committee that requires them to provide two photos of themselves.

“In the countryside its difficult to have two photos,” Hang Puthea said.

National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nitha said all commune offices have been opening at 8 am or 9 am at the latest for voters to register.

Commune councilors and clerks “cannot do any work other than helping voters over the 20 days,” he said.

Former minister of women’s affairs and current SRP member Mu Sochua has been monitoring 18 communes in two Kompong Cham province districts, Batheay and Kroch Chhmar, since Sunday.

She said commune chiefs in about half of the 12 communes in Batheay were absent for nearly the entire first day of registration on Sunday.

Instead of showing up, the commune chiefs attended a CPP meeting at district offices, she claimed. Mu Sochua alleged that the commune chiefs took the official stamp required to authorize registration documents with them to their meeting. Commune clerks could not register voters in their absence, she said.

“This is when [election] observers should start [monitoring]. This is election time already,” she said.

Tep Nitha responded stating that Mu Sochua’s claims “did not sound reliable.”

He added that commune chiefs have no right to take official property, such as stamps, with them from the commune offices to political party meetings.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said commune clerks have been instructed to remain at their offices for the duration of the registration process.

Khieu Sopheak added that political parties who anticipate losing the elections are preemptively preparing a defense for themselves by complaining of a lack of fairness in the registration process.

“Some parties just want to collect arguments in order to complain after the election,” he said.

At Meanchey district’s Boeng Tumpon commune in Phnom Penh, Suon Vorn, a monitor with Funcinpec, said at least 200 first-time voters are turning up to register each day, and are doing so successfully.

But a much lower figure of around 130 already-registered voters are coming to check their information each day, he said.

The low number of registered voters—which forms the bulk of the country’s voters—checking that their details are correct in time for the election is worryingly low, he said.

“If the NEC is strict about voters not using old voter cards, many people might not be able to vote [come election time],” he said.

 

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