Study Says Voters Still Face Obstacles, Reforms Needed

Cambodians still face obstacles to freely exercise their right to vote due to various problems in the election process, such as flawed voter registration procedures, a lack of trained and impartial election and government officials, uneven media coverage, and inadequate complaint resolution processes, according to a study by election monitoring groups presented yesterday.

Voter registration is unreasonably complicated, flaws remain in voter lists, and the use of the so-called “1018 forms” for people who lack proper ID provides opportunities for abuse and confusion on election day, according to the re­port, which was produced by the US-based National Democratic Institute, the Committee for Free and Fair Elec­tions, and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

Media coverage of elections is un­ba­lanced, particularly on television, and financing of political parties and cam­paigns is not transparent, ac­cor­ding to the study, presented by NDI at a workshop in Phnom Penh. The research consulted 150 representatives from across society, such as government officials, NGO workers, labor representatives and academics.

Government election committees on all levels lack neutrality, while the work of the National Election Committee is not transparent and provides limited election information to the public, NDI said, adding that NEC regulations are “extremely inaccessible…complicated and inconsistent.”

Local authorities frequently lacked necessary skills or interfered with voter registration, while the legal process to resolve election complaints is “seriously flawed,” and the current parliamentary seat allocation formula is biased toward the leading party, the report added.

The report recommended a number of reforms to address these problems, including creating both a national voter ID card system and permanent voter lists that can be changed all-year round as well as abolishing 1018 forms. It also recommended changing the composition of the NEC to make it more diverse and allowing more access to NEC documents.

Speaking at the workshop, Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said elections had greatly improved since 1993, but Cambodia still had lessons to learn to improve the electoral system, adding that the system “corresponds to the peaceful and social development of Cambodia.”

His ministry would consider the workshops’ recommendations for reform, Mr Setha said.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said his organization was not attending the workshop because “the workshop discusses amending election laws” while “NEC follows [existing] election laws.”

The amount of time on state media allocated to each party depended on the previous election result and, therefore, a party with few votes could only get a short time on radio and television, Mr Nytha, who has long links with the ruling CPP, said in response to some of the report’s findings.

Aamir Arain, head of the Streng­thening Democracy Project of the UN Development Program, said: “All reports say the [successive] elections have improved, it’s the broader government issues that now have to be improved.”

Mr Arain said the government and election monitoring groups all agreed reforms are needed, but the difficulty lay in creating the political will to make these reforms.

UNDP and the international community funded around 40 percent of the cost of the 2008 election, he said, adding “this support is not given on conditions of reform.”

UNDP, he said, supported programs such as the National ID Card project to improve the election process.



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