Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng told donors Tuesday the country’s first commune-level elections will require a new bureaucracy and could cost as much as $24 million.
Cambodia is going to need help paying for it, he said, saying that the effort “will not succeed…without the best technical advice and financial assistance from members of the international community.”
Sar Kheng summoned about 20 representatives of donor countries and organizations to the Ministry of the Interior Tuesday for a briefing on government plans for the elections.
He said a subsequent meeting will be scheduled to deal with details such as funding. Earlier estimates have ranged from $20 to $30 million, and the government has said it will pay 10 percent of the costs.
“Frankly, we’re interested to learn how they’re going to come up with the $2 [million] to $3 million,” Alexander Arvizu, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy, said during a morning break.
Arvizu said later the discussion never became that specific, but that donors freely expressed various concerns about the elections.
Though they have acknowledged they will be expected to pick up most of the tab, donors have yet to make any commitments to election funding.
Sar Kheng said that while elections around the world typically cost between $1 and $3 per voter, the costs in Cambodia could run as high as $4 per voter.
With as many as 6 million voters expected to go to the polls, the final cost could reach $24 million.
He also said the National Election Commission would be expanded to include “political parties that currently have seats in the National Assembly,” which Arvizu said was a reference to the Sam Rainsy Party, whose members have protested its exclusion from the NEC.
Sar Kheng said the government “will propose an extraordinary meeting of the National Assembly as soon as possible” to deal with the composition of the commission.
The deputy prime minister said officials are committed to shifting power from the central government to local officials, and that the Feb 3, 2002 elections are a necessary step.
“The election of the commune councils is a massive and urgent undertaking,” he said, one that will require election officials and independent monitors trained by the NEC.
Many observers may come from the 800 NGOs and agencies operating in Cambodia, he said.
Voter registration lists will be updated from those used in the 1998 elections and posted publicly “for public scrutiny, objections and appeals,” he said.
The government will urge members of the nearly 50 registered political parties to run, with a special emphasis on female candidates, he said.
The actual campaign season will be limited to the 15 days before the election.
He said the NEC will also have to train officials to staff the approximately 75,000 polling places and to count the votes in what amounts to more than 1,600 separate elections.
Sar Kheng said a new National Committee to Support Communes will be formed by officials from the Council of Ministers, as well as the ministries of Interior, Finance, Rural Development, Land Management, Planning and Women’s Affairs.
The NCSC’s job will be to help the newly elected commune councils to operate with the assistance of a new Department of Local Administration within the Ministry of the Interior.
Sar Kheng said the NEC will also establish 24 provincial election commissions and more than 1,600 commune election commissions, as well as 12,000 voter registration stations.