Voter Registration Drive Begins in Controversy

While the annual voter registration drive begins today, the National Election Committee is already fending off complaints from opposition members and ob­serv­ers over the process.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Thursday called for the NEC to extend the 18-day registration period—during which the NEC updates the national voter list—to 30 days, saying he was concerned that the current time frame is too short.

He also worried that the registration period coincides with the Pchum Ben festival, when Cam­bod­­ians traditionally visit pagodas to pay their respects to the dead, saying commune clerks might break from registering voters.

“If within 18 days the NEC cannot register all voters, the NEC has to extend” the period, he said.

Following the 2003 national election, Sam Rainsy complained of numerous irregularities at the polls, despite general approval of the election process from local and international monitors.

Sam Rainsy’s complaint Thurs­day was backed by Hang Puthea, the director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

Hang Puthea, whose organization has deployed 64 staff members to monitor the registration, criticized the NEC for failing to inform eligible voters of its drive.

“I am concerned that only a few people will go to register because most people are not aware of the registration process,” he said.

Tep Nitha, the NEC secretary general, dismissed the complaints Thursday “I think within 18 days, we can register all the voters,” he said, adding that offices have been set up in each commune. Eligible voters will need to bring their identification cards, or district-issued family books to the offices in order to register, he said. The NEC has so far spent about $100,000 on registration materials and training for commune clerks, he added.

Tep Nitha acknowledged the NEC has had limited television and radio time to inform voters of the drive, but said only state-run TVK and National Radio have agreed to run its public service announcements without charge.

 

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