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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC ready for 2008 vote

NEC ready for 2008 vote

NEC says ghost names, transient voters, behind culling of registration


The National Election Committee has begun publishing the preliminary voter lists

for Cambodia's 2008 National Elections, triggering a storm of criticism from the

political opposition and local election monitoring NGOs. Critics say the ruling Cambodian

People's Party is using the NEC to manipulate voter registration nationwide. "We

are always criticized and people always accuse the NEC of being biased," said

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha. "But those people have never seen the real

work of the NEC."The recently married Nytha, who now has a new-born baby daughter,

began working at the NEC in 1997. He became Secretary General in 2002. Although Nytha

is part of the CPP quota of representatives, like all NEC appointees he has officially

given up ties to his party. He says the NEC's decision to "clean up" the

voter lists has drawn undeserved criticism. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party claims

that tens of thousands of names have been added to inflate voter lists in favor of

the CPP on polling day, and tens of thousands of real citizens who wanted to register

as voters have not been able to do so because of lack of information, administrative

harassment and confusion. The SRP also says that CPP-controlled commune councils

have arbitrarily deleted 573,981 names from the lists, including a large number of

non-CPP voters. Nytha responds that whatever the NEC does, "the SRP just complains

anyway." He spoke to the Post's Cat Barton and Vong Sokheng in his Ministry

of Interior office, the walls of which are lined with endless voter lists.

Why is the NEC "cleaning up" voter lists?

There were many ghost names on the voter lists. This is for two reasons. Firstly,

registration has to be done where you live - if you move to another commune, you

have to register at your new commune and inform your old commune that you have moved

and will not be voting there. But many people don't bother to tell their old commune

that they have moved. Secondly we have no way of removing names automatically when

a voter dies, unless the family reports the death to the commune officially. This

year, the NEC has been trying to clean up the voter lists and this has earned us

lots of criticism. But cleaning up the voter lists has not only happened this year

- we've been working on it since 2004. We found many ghost voters on the registration

lists in 2006. Next year, 2008, is the national election so we really need to clean

up the lists. So 2 August 2007 to 13 September 2007 was the NEC's "Cleaning

Process." But we have not yet removed any names so people can go to the commune

and see if their name is on the list to be removed. If it is and they don't think

it should be, they can complain to the commune council. Last time, the [commune clerks]

removed by accident 90,000 voters, out of 653,000 possible voters. So the commune

clerks released on October 27 the final lists. People have five days to complain

if there are any problems with this list. In total, voters have 33 days to check

and ensure their name is on the list.

What do you say to criticism that the "Cleaning Process" of the voter lists

is politically motivated?
The NRP, the SRP and Funcinpec have set up a joint committee to examine

the lists, and it will keep going until October 30. It will check the lists and make

recommendations to the commune council, which will make a final decision on the lists.

The NEC's policy is that if there is no evidence that a person is dead or has moved,

you cannot remove their name. Even though we have a process like this, the SRP still

complains. They have made 40 complaints to the NEC and their complaints do not identify

the names of voters, they just complain to the Commune Council that their decision

on the lists was not right. Even if the SRP itself has a member on the commune council

and have helped to make the decision, for example in the Tonle Bassac district, the

commune council included SRP members and the decision on the voter list was unanimous,

but the SRP still complained.

Comfrel in its report on the April 2007 commune elections said

many people didn't know where to vote or couldn't find their names on the voter lists

and were hence denied their vote. What has the NEC done to improve voter access?

We have solved a number of problems since the 2007 commune elections. Now the lists

are alphabetical. Before that, they were done according to when you had registered.

Secondly, we have arranged that there will be one designated official at each polling

station to help people find their names. We used to announce the location of polls

before Election Day and then on the day itself put up lists. But all this information

will be given out earlier this time. We worry people don't know where to vote, so

we make it easier.

Why is voter turnout is dropping in Cambodia?

Firstly, the number of people who go to vote is actually increasing, but the percentage

of eligible voters who vote has gone down. This relates to the fact that there are

still ghost voters, which boosts the official number of eligible voters. Secondly,

voter turnout relates to social and political issues. For example, in Poipet in 2003

there were 40,000 voters on the list but only 20,000 people voted. Poipet has a very

mobile population - some people register to vote, then move to Thailand. People move

faster than we can update the lists. Also, if we compare Cambodia to other countries,

they have low voter turnout too.

Maybe when the atmosphere of society is good, people don't care so much, they get

apathetic about voting. But when a country has many problems, people want to go and

vote. I think this may have happened in Cambodia. Also living conditions, more people

have begun to leave the provinces and come to the cities to work. They have not registered

to vote here so they cannot vote and they don't go back to their province to vote.

We would like three days off for workers to go to vote. We are paying attention to

this problem.

Does Cambodia's youngergeneration vote?

If you are 18 before July 27, 2008, then you can register to vote. The number of

people who reach voting age goes up around 2 percent a year. In 2005, there were

225,000 18- to 19-year-old voters, and in 2006, there were 226,000 18 to 19-year-old

voters. We estimate that around 90 percent of young people register to vote. After

you vote, you just tick your box and then your name is ticked off the list and we

store the information in case of a complaint. But in Cambodia it is voluntary, whether

you register or vote, it is not necessary to check up on exactly who in the population

is voting.

Is the NEC independent?

In the full meaning of the word, yes, the National Election Committee is independent.

But for the budget, no. For example, for this election we need $17 million. The government

will give us about $10 million. The Japanese have promised about $3 million and the

rest we still have to find. We are having meetings with donors to try and get the

additional funding now.



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