SACRIFICES have been made and many corners cut to squeeze an election out of Cambodia
on July 26 with "minimum standards" of credibility, but despite pressure
to stick to the date, election technicians now insist that a delay of between ten
to 14 days is now unavoidable.
The biggest problem, according to the experts, is a postponement in voter registration
that will cause a domino effect on all other major election dates.
The latest election timetable sets the establishment of voter registration stations
around the country at April 20. Voter registration is to begin a week later on April
27. The European Union's 1,700 registration kits, election workers report, are currently
expected to arrive in Cambodia on May 6 - more than 16 days late.
Additionally, election technicians are now concerned that 28 days will not be enough
to give all voters in the country's many remote areas the opportunity to register.
One estimated that no more than 70% of potential voters would get registered under
the current circumstances.
Rumors that a polling-date delay would be necessary have persisted for months, but
they had been limited to whispers under the CPP's insistence that July 26 was a set
and unchangeable date.
Despite this set-in-stone attitude, all other election-related dates have remained
fluid as the National Election Commission bends and twists around budgetary shortages,
technical pitfalls and political problems.
Long-anticipated amendments to the election law were passed March 31 by the National
Assembly to readjust the election timetable and alter candidacy requirements to ensure
the participation of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and other self-exiles.
But even as the amendments were being debated, Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng, whom
experts say is "well-informed on the subject", hinted on the Assembly floor
that the election law may arrive in parliament for a third time to discuss a polling-date
Sar Kheng later told the Post that Cambodia's "international friends"
had mentioned to him the unavoidable registration delays and it was his personal
assessment - not the government's nor the Assembly's nor the CPP's - that a polling
delay will be needed.
"The international community's assistance is late... this is a technical problem
that will affect the election date," Sar Kheng said. "I told the Assembly
that if it is necessary for the election to be delayed, it should only be by ten
to 14 days."
The minister's assessment mirrors that of election experts in the Election Bureau
at the Interior. Without such a delay, they warn, minimum international standards
cannot be met.
NEC President Chheng Phon said he was unsure if a delay was unavoidable, but that
the NEC would meet soon to discuss the issue of the late registration kits.
"I do not know [about a delay], this appears to be a technical issue,"
Chheng Phon said.
"I don't want the election to be delayed, but if it must be we have to give
the National Assembly time to amend the law."
An election expert added that the move to delay elections should be publicized -
and at least tacitly approved - before the April 19 meeting of the "Friends
of Cambodia" in Bangkok.
Additional election assistance could be forthcoming at the meeting if technical progress
on elections and the return of Prince Ranariddh outweigh concerns over mounting intimidation
and killings of opposition members in the provinces.