The National Election Committee has expressed concern over whether the Interior Ministry will be able to issue enough new biometric identity cards – which ensure voter names aren’t duplicated – in time for it to register voters ahead of the 2017 commune elections.
The issue, among those discussed at a meeting between the two bodies on Wednesday, could complicate the NEC’s planned efforts to digitise and clean-up voter lists next year, according to NEC spokesman Hang Puthea.
Although voters are technically able to use old identity cards to register, as they don’t include a biometric chip containing the holder’s personal data, there’s more chance of duplications arising, which would undermine the NEC’s goal, specified in the new election law, of ensuring voter lists are accurate.
“The old ID card does not have enough information because all information is in the chip,” Puthea said.
“We cannot use it for controlled voter registration.”
Interior Ministry’s Mao Chandara, director general of the General Department of Identification Cards, said currently about 13 million identity cards were in circulation, of which 4.6 million were biometric.
Conceding time and resources were a challenge, he said his department would try to issue another 6 million new cards as soon as possible
“The new identification cards guarantee an international standard; the old does not guarantee an international standard,” he added.
Bloated voter lists formed a major gripe of the opposition following the contested July 2013 election. A Post investigation prior to the ballot found that nearly all of Phnom Penh’s communes had voter-registration rates in excess of 100 per cent, and there were more than 25,000 duplicate names in the capital alone.
Puthea said the NEC and Interior Ministry would work closely to ensure those registering with old identity cards – as well as those unable to get a card in time, who are required to get a temporary identity document from commune authorities – were vetted before being logged in the new digital system. He again called for international donors to support the NEC in establishing the new lists.
Responding yesterday, both the European Union and Japan, who have offered to help with the voter roll clean-up, affirmed their commitment to electoral reform. EU Ambassador Jean-François Cautain said the aid package to the NEC would likely be announced in October. Takayoshi Kuromiya, counsellor of the Embassy of Japan said an election expert to advise the NEC would be dispatched to Cambodia in the summer.
Meanwhile, Puthea said the NEC was preparing to reshuffle members of the body’s secretariat in the next three months but declined to specify when, or by whom, current Secretary General Tep Nytha would be replaced. In a seeming swipe at the workings of the previous NEC, considered biased towards the ruling party, Puthea said Nytha’s replacement would be subservient to the body’s leadership and not able to make decisions independently.