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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Failure to Address Y2K Threat Puts Election

Failure to Address Y2K Threat Puts Election

ballots.jpg
ballots.jpg

Ballot boxes by bicycle in 1998. Can results be delivered without

computer technology in 'Y2K'?

Future Cambodian elections threaten to be laborious, fraud-prone and low-tech due

to the government's failure to make the national election computer system Y2K-compliant.

According to Undersecretary of State to the Council of Ministers Pan Sorasak, a computer

expert who has lobbied the National Election Committee (NEC) since last fall to allocate

funding to make the national election computer Y2K-compliant, time has run out to

salvage the computer system.

"It's now too late to take effective action to correct our Y2K problem,"

said Sorasak, who has worked with the computer system in both the 1993 and 1998 elections.

"We've managed to save the data, but all the hardware and software [in the National

Election Computer Center] will have to be junked."

Sorasak is highly dubious of the potential success of any attempts to organize the

commune elections without the accuracy and security provided by computer-verified

voting lists and results.

"People in the NEC are telling us that they don't need computers and that they

want to go back to using 'pencils and paper' for future elections," Sorasak

said. "It's a ridiculous idea and people would laugh at us. ... Any such election

won't be recognized by the international community because of the potential for fraud."

Cambodia's now-obsolete computer system was originally a $2 million dollar, state-of-the

art system brought in by UNTAC for the 1993 elections and used subsequently in the

1998 elections. The computer system was custom-made for Cambodia and was used for

compiling and cross-referencing voting lists in both English and Khmer as well as

for vote counting, significantly reducing the capacity for electoral fraud.

"According to Cambodian law, the NEC must produce new voting lists within 60

days of parliament dissolving [for an election]," Sorasak explained.

"We no longer have a computer system capable of generating such lists,"

said Sorasak.

Sorasak and computer center Deputy Director of Operations Chea Sok Huor first rang

the alarm bell about the election computer's Y2K compliance problems in November,

1998, but claim the NEC just hasn't been listening.

Huor says the submission to the NEC of cost projections for Y2K-compliance work in

October with a recommendation for immediate urgent action "brought no substantive

response."

While Huor stressed that the vital electoral lists stored on the old computer had

been saved, the inability to transfer the data to a Y2K-compliant computer system

raised the possibility of "corrupted data" due to yet-undetected Y2K glitches

in the software.

"If the old computer system was still operational we could have run the data

on the old system and compared it with the data we've saved on a new system,"

Huor said. "We've lost the opportunity to check for possible glitches."

Im Sousdey, Secretary General of the NEC, told the Post that the NEC was aware of

the Y2K problems affecting the election computer, but that requests made by the NEC

one month ago for government funding to rectify the problem had gone unanswered.

Sousdey adds that the NEC is fully prepared to conduct future elections without any

computer assistance.

"We will run the commune election without computers if the Royal Government

doesn't have the money for new computers," Sousdey said. "During elections

in the 1960s elections were done without the use of computers and we can do the same."

Huor also dismisses the possibility of running the commune elections without computer

assistance.

"There's never been a country that's rejected computerization and gone back

to old-fashioned methods of electoral list compilation and ballot counting,"

he said. "UNTAC gave us the capacity to have a reliable and sophisticated election

process and we're just throwing it away."

Sorasakblames a "lack of adequate technical knowledge" on the part of members

of the NEC for their unwillingness to recognize the benefits Cambodia has derived

from a computerized election process.

"It's really necessary that NEC members be more in tune with information technology

and the realities of the modern world," Sorasak said. "It's my hope the

international community and donors will be able to influence the NEC on this matter."

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