The compromise to count the ballots from upcoming elections at the commune level instead of at village polling stations is a step in the right direction but still has problems, election watchdogs said this week.
The commune level may still be close enough to the villages for officials to retaliate against those who vote against their favored parties, they said.
“I think this [compromise] will allay perhaps one-third of the fear,” said Lao Mong Hay, a member of Coffel, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections.
At the same time, moving the ballot boxes will both complicate and slow down the tallying.
The compromise was offered by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday to break a deadlock in the National Assembly.
Opposition parliamentarians allied with deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the Son Sann BLDP and Sam Rainsy were boycotting the parliament, demanding ballots be counted in provincial capitals.
Thun Saray, spokesman for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, Coffel’s sister organization, said the group would still prefer the counting be farther removed from the polling places.
“If we can move to the provincial level, it would be better,” Thun Saray said. However, he added, counting at the commune level is acceptable, if not preferable.
One drawback to moving the vote count is that the ballot boxes will have to be transported from the 11,000 polling places to about 1,500 commune capitals.
“It is a major logistical undertaking,” said one technical adviser to the National Election Committee. “How they are going to be able to move everything from the polling stations to the larger communes, I don’t know.”
Plus, because the polls close at 4 pm, some ballots may not arrive at commune centers until after dark and may have to be guarded overnight, he said.
Counting in the 1993 UN-administered poll was done in provincial capitals. Some complained ballots were tampered with in transit.