An official from the National Election Committee said yesterday the body was pleased to have registered more than 80 percent of Cambodia’s estimated 9.6 million eligible voters over the past three months, blaming overzealous estimates of available eligible voters, deaths and the weather for coming up short.
The three-month registration window ended at midnight last night – extended past the 5:30pm deadline to allow for stragglers – with enrolments creeping toward 7.9 million, meaning 1.7 million potential voters as initially estimated by the NEC will not be able to participate in upcoming commune elections.
The figure is lower than the 9.6 million people who registered for the 2013 national election – which ultimately saw a turnout of 6.6 million – and the 9.2 million who registered for the 2012 commune council elections – which saw a turnout of 6 million people.
Yet both of those elections were marred by accusations of double names and voter fraud, and CPP-appointed NEC member Em Sophat told reporters at a press conference at the NEC offices inside the Interior Ministry that he was pleased with the final results achieved.
“In general, the voter registration to create a new voter list went smoothly, safely and got a good result,” Sophat said, adding that there had been some problems but that they were corrected.
“Firstly, there was the implementation of work by the registration officials, which had some mistakes that required correction at the voter data department at the NEC,” he said. “The internet was slow, which was a problem for registration groups sending the data.” “Another difficulty was that this three-month voter registration was done during the rainy reason, and it rains a lot, and there are floods,” said Sophat.
Sophat said that the 1.7 million estimated voters who did not enroll could be explained by, among other things, the presence of migrant workers in Thailand – of which there are an estimated 1.1 million – as well as errors in the NEC’s original estimates. “Firstly, many of our people have two or three addresses,” Sophat said, explaining that when local officials reported their estimates of voters to the NEC, the same person could be counted twice.
“Secondly, [there are] migrant workers – internal and external.” “Thirdly, some people cannot register because they are in prison, some are staying in hospital . . . and there are old people and disabled people who have difficulties travelling to register, and there are deaths. So the rate of death is about 1 percent. This number had not been deducted from the estimated number.”
Other eligible voters simply would not have wanted to register, Sophat said.Meng Sopheary, a lawyer for the CNRP placed in charge of registration issues for the party who was in the audience, asked the NEC board to consider ex-tending the registration period for four more days to help ensure everyone who wants to can vote next year. “The extension of registration could have some impacts, but they would not be great impacts on the NEC’s calendar and budget,” she said.
However, Tep Nytha, the NEC’s controversial long-time secretary-general, who was reappointed to his role at the start of this year despite protests from the opposition, said it would not be worth extending the period, because there were few areas with such low registration numbers that it would justify the outlay of resources for four days more of registration after three months. “Most [low-turnout communes] are in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey Most of them went to work in Thailand.”
Koul Panha, head of local election monitor Comfrel, said he believed the two big issues that led to lower-than-expected registrations were the number of Cambodians forced to work in Thailand to make ends meet and people without valid identification. “The big issue was external migration,” Panha said. “Secondly, it has to do with people who do not have Cambodian identification cards, which is also a big issue.”
“It is probably 1 million people who do not have Cambodian identification cards,” he said. In any case, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said that the committee would now get to work verifying the data, and there was no way to further extend registration. “It is not possible.”