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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Census data will be too late for use in elections

Census data will be too late for use in elections

CAMBODIA will hold two elections in the next three years without the benefit of census

data that would help them determine how many people are eligible to vote.

Communal elections are planned for 1997 and the general election for 1998. Also planned

for 1998 is the first complete census in 34 years. But the data from the census will

not be analyzed in time for elections officials to use, experts say.

The authorities involved in the preparation of the vote do not seem to be too worried

about it. But some human rights workers worry that the lack of precise information

might be used as an excuse to postpone the elections.

"What I fear is that the government might use the lack of data from the census

as an excuse to delay the elections," explains Dr Lao Mong Hay, executive manager

of the Khmer Institute of Democracy.

"Such [an excuse] could be put foward by politicians who would like to hang

on to power as long as possible and there are some who do not seem to be in favor

of holding the elections as scheduled."

That is speculation, he adds. "But, if I were in their shoes, I would say: Why

not delay until we have a proper census?"

"That would be a very bad excuse," says Sang Ryvannak, Under Secretary

of State of Planning. "Other reasons can be used, such as security or Khmer

Rouge, but not this one."

The government cannot wait for the results of the census to set up the elections,

as the Constitution requires elections within five years.

"We need the data... but we are not able to wait for them," says Ok Serei

Sopheak, an adviser of co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng. "The electoral roll is

more simple than the census as we just need to know who are the [citizens] and who

are the age to vote."

According to Article 34 of the Constitution the voting right is guaranteed to "all

citizens of at least 18 years old."

To set up the electoral roll properly, Interior officials would need precise data

about the numbers of such citizens. The census will provide only the numbers of those

old enough, according to Dr Vincent Fauveau, of the UN Population Fund, which is

helping Cambodian officials prepare for the census.

For that reason, he says, the census operations are completely independent because

the data coming from the census does not achieve the electoral goal.

The Ministry is not even able to use the electoral roll established in 1993, for

the first election supervised by UNATC.

For that election, the experts used estimations of population and 4.7 million people

were registered. But this roll has never been updated and the National Assembly has

yet to pass the Nationality Law that would define citizenship.

So the new election department of the Interior Ministry must base its voter registration

figures on speculation, says Jean Fuexer, adviser to the two Interior Ministers.

.

"We are going to hold a kind of pre-census which will be the base of the electoral

roll," he says.

According to Fuexer, registration will be held on a voluntary basis for all the population

at a communal level. From this list of people it will be possible to register those

who will be 18 years old on a date fixed by the electoral law, which still has to

be drafted.

"Not to have the data from the census will prevent us from evaluating how many

people have to be registered," Fuexer adds. "It would have been easier

to preview the technical staff and the means needed.

"But it would be unacceptable that citizens could not vote because of technical

questions. So we have to overlook the numbers of voters."

Preparations for the census have been going on since 1994, when the first UNFPA expert

arrived to help set up the census. That was two years after the government asked

help from UN for counting the population.

"When we arrived in 1994, we looked to the human resources available and to

the possibilities to move around and collect the data from all around the country,"

says Fauveau.

"From observations we concluded that it was impossible to handle a serious census

before 1998."

For now, election preparations are on schedule, Fuexer says. But the government must

make decisions in the next six months if it wants to hold the elections at the end

of 1997.

The biggest unanswered questions, he says, concern citizenship - who will be eligible

to vote.

"Before the single first person is registered in the first list, the nationality

law must be applicable," Fuexer says.

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