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Friday, September 22, 2006

Sam Rainsy's Reply to the National Election Committee

Sam Rainsy's Reply to the National Election Committee
Letter published in The Phnom Penh Post - September 22, 2006


I am puzzled to learn that, according to NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha, "it was to satisfy the opposition parties that the voter cards of the previous elections were abandoned as a valid document both to register and to vote." This would be indeed the first time that the CPP-dominated NEC would have made a decision with far-reaching consequences just to satisfy the opposition! We did denounce some irregularities in the past but the remedy they now choose proves to be worse than the disease.

Voter cards were the most commonly used documents until the last elections in 2003. I maintain that suppressing these voter cards under the present conditions, with so little preparations, and adopting new procedures for registering and voting creates confusion that tends to exclude many non-CPP members from the election process. Only those who are registered as CPP members receive adequate information, assistance and facilities to ensure that they will be able to cast their ballots on Voting Day. This can be explained by the fact that virtually all the officials who deal with potential voters (village chiefs, commune chiefs, commune clerks, police officers and election officials) are affiliated with the CPP or are not in a position to disobey the CPP.

Tep Nytha refers to the existing election law as a legal constraint that would not allow the NEC to devise and implement a more open process. He should specify that this law and subsequent amendments were adopted by the current CPP-dominated National Assembly in spite of protests from the opposition. Up to mid-2006, when all important decisions for the next elections had already been made, the NEC was exclusively composed of members who came from the CPP and its ally Funcinpec.

As justification of the new registering and voting procedures stemming from the suppression of voter cards, the NEC puts forward its good intentions such as the desire to help voters and to increase their awareness of, and participation in, the election process. But the NEC's initiative actually creates an unnecessary, untimely and unfair hurdle for millions of potential voters, especially those who are not affiliated with the CPP, as evidenced by countless reports from independent sources about the resulting confusion that prevails throughout the country. It is sometimes worth remembering that the road to hell is paved with good intentions...

Many observers are not inclined to follow the technicalities of the new registering and voting procedures, which appear to be full of boring details. But in many cases such as election preparations, the Devil is in the details.

Tep Nytha writes: "As imposed by the electoral law, the period for voter registration begins on October 1st and ends on December 31 st; not in the worst of the rainy season from August to October as mentioned in Sam Rainsy's letter." In fact, the crucial period is much shorter: between October 1st and October 20 th , when names and other personal data have to be corrected on voter lists and first-time registrations have to be made. That period will be hectic with both voters and commune officials facing unusual constraints and pressure, especially in the most densely populated communes that are the opposition's strongholds (it makes little sense to reason in terms of average for Cambodia's 1,621 communes as Tep Nytha does in his letter).

This year will be different from the previous years because the requirements for voters for the upcoming 2007 elections will be different from the previous elections. At the previous elections, voters could solely rely on their voter cards to simultaneously prove their voting right and their identity at the polling stations. There was no need for them to make any prior demarche before Voting Day (such as checking the accuracy of their names and other data) at their commune offices and there was no need to worry about having an ID card. The suppression of voter cards this year means that they now have to verify the accuracy of their registration on their commune's voter lists and to get a national ID card from the police, which is problematic for many people, especially the poor in the countryside.

In the ongoing and unusual CPP membership drive throughout the country, villagers who accept to adhere to the ruling party are provided with the adequate support to go through all the administrative procedures so as to effectively preserve their voting right. This is political discrimination.

The Cambodia Daily on September 20 th reported: "Ngeth Virak, commune clerk for Satpoang commune in Kampot province's Chhuk district, said that names, dates of birth or places of birth on nearly 85 percent of the [voter information] notices issued to villagers in his commune did not match the information on their identity cards." I have received similar information from many communes in several provinces showing serious errors pertaining to names, genders, ages and addresses. I am afraid that failure to correct those voter list information errors within the October 1st to October 20 th registration period may result in many voters being turned away at the polls in 2007.

Tep Nytha minimizes problems when he writes: "As in any country with a permanent electoral list, the procedure for correcting a name is swift and easy: simply show up with any legal ID document and the Clerk of the Commune/Sangkat will fill the paperwork for the correction to be done." Only naive observers would believe such a statement that ignores the administrative harassment faced everyday by non-CPP supporters.

Sam Rainsy
Member of Parliament

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