BATTAMBANG - This northwestern province, site of what could be a closely-contested
election, has won the dubious distinction of having registered the smallest percentage
of eligible voters.
Along with registration woes common to other parts of the country, problems here
have been exacerbated by continued fighting against pockets of Khmer Rouge.
The projected final figure for Battambang registration was 84%, 13% off the national
PEC vice-president Svoeuy Bun Roeun said that according to EU figures, about 2,700
frontline soldiers and perhaps 200 civilians in the frontline Rattanak Mondul district
near Samlot were unable to come to the nearest registration center, 80km away.
"I asked the NEC to extend the registration time, but they refused," he
With several big political names standing here, every vote may count. Candidates
include CPP Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Son Sann Party president Son Soubert, and
Funcinpec stalwart Prince Sisowath Sirirath.
The 30,000 or so refugees from the Samlot area still in Thailand might have been
crucial to Funcinpec's support, but the PEC has no mandate to include them in the
Funcinpec won the area in the 1993 elections.
Funcinpec provincial deputy president and third deputy governor Souza Karya complained
that the registration numbers were so low because the PEC had been moving registration
centers without adequate notice.
"They stop, they move to another place, they do not tell people - so people
travel far and find nothing." He alleged that only CPP supporters were told
where to register, adding that he had filed a complaint but had little hope of action.
"Even if we try to complain many times, we still cannot get any result because
the PEC members are all CPP," he said.
Svoeuy Bun Roeun denied any political agenda, but admitted there had been some problems
with last-minute center switches.
He blamed the NEC for the confusion, as he said the NEC changed the code numbers
and locations just five days before registration started. Then two days later it
was changed again.
Actual registration numbers may be even lower if double registration is taken into
account. Bun Roeun said that the PEC had confiscated four duplicate cards in two
days, and taken statements from the offenders.
One young man wrote: "I had no bad intention, but in my first card, my picture
was not good, so I wanted a second to have a good picture."
Another offender, an ex-soldier feared by his neighbors, repeatedly threatened PEC
officials who tried to confiscate his card.
"It's easy to make two cards," said An Vorit, working at a registration
center in Battambang. "How can we know? We don't have the right to stop them."
He said it was difficult to catch determined cheaters, because if they had no identification
they merely needed two witnesses to attest to their name. They could easily repeat
the process with different names at different centers.