Trainer Says Election Day Results Planned

Counting Procedure Improved Over 1998

The voting and counting of ballots for the Feb 3 commune council elections will likely be smoother and more transparent than during the 1998 national elections, according to Tim Johnson, Cambodia program officer for the US-based International Republican Institute.

But that doesn’t mean the local elections will be free and fair, he said Thursday. He said intimidation of Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party members may have prevented some people from running. He also criticized the confiscation of voter identification cards and unequal access to media.

“We are past free and fair,” Johnson said. “Now we’re just trying to get the best outcome.”

Johnson, who worked for IRI during the 1998 national elections, described that year’s vote counting as “tortured.”

The months that followed were marked by confusion and sporadic violence as opposition leaders accused the CPP of deliberately delaying the vote count and stealing votes.

Most ballot boxes were moved to another location and kept overnight before they were counted, Johnson said. The ballots from one polling center were often mixed with ballots from other polling centers before counting began, which meant election observers couldn’t watch the ballot count from polls they had spent election day monitoring.

But on Feb 3, election workers will immediately begin counting ballots when polls close at 4 pm. Results should be posted outside the polling station by about         11 pm.

“It is so much harder to change results later on if every villager already knows those results,” Johnson said.

The new voting and counting process was the subject of a Phnom Penh election training seminar held Thursday for political party officials. These officials will observe voting and counting at polling stations in the city’s Chamkar Mon and Meanchey districts.

The seminar was one of more than 70 that IRI, which is affiliated with the US Republican Party and receives funding from the US Agency for International Develop­ment, has conducted across Cambodia.

IRI program officer Chao Veasna showed examples of valid and invalid ballots. Ballots that have been torn, are not the same as the original, have been written on, have been checked twice or have the voter’s thumbprint are all invalid, he said.

This ensures the anonymity of the voter and eliminates the possibility of fraud.

Last week, Funcinpec campaign chairman Nhiek Bun Chhay asked international observers, diplomats and journalists to closely watch the voting and counting process.

He also asked that donor nations ensure that only 6 million ballots are printed. In 1998, he said 9 million ballots were allegedly printed for 5.4 million eligible voters. After the election, party officials could only find 140,000 unused ballots.

Commune election workers will be expected to match the number of voters and the number of ballots at the end of voting, Chao Veasna said. “If they differ, then you will know there has been a problem,” he said.

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