The National Election Committee (NEC) said yesterday it had made a last-minute decision to extend by one day the three-month voter registration period that had been scheduled to end in the evening, citing a last-minute rush pushing enrollments past 80 percent.
Almost 7.8 million of Cambodia’s estimated 9.6 million eligible voters have so far registered to vote in next year’s commune elections, and NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the body wanted to see as few as possible of the remaining 1.8 million disenfranchised.
“It’s a nationwide extension,” the spokesman said by telephone. “The reason is that we have seen a lot of people coming to register, and so the NEC has created the possibility for these people to participate.”
“The more, the better. That’s why we decided to extend,” he said. “We decided this at about 10:30pm [on Monday]. ”The commune elections, which will be the first popular elections since the Cambodia National Rescue Party emerged as a viable opposition party at the 2013 national election, are scheduled for June 4.
The NEC, which has had equal representation from the two major parties since its reformation in 2015, has been working since the start of September to rebuild the voter list using biometric data to avoid the complaints of fraud that marred past elections.Puthea said there would be no more extensions after today because it would impact the NEC’s ability to release the new voter list as scheduled on January 3, but that he believed reaching 80 percent of the goal of 9.6 million registered voters was still an achievement.
“Aiming to register 100 per cent, based on the law in Cambodia, no country could do that,” Puthea said, explaining that many people do not have the birth certificates or ID cards required to enrol, and that others would inevitably just not turn up to register. “Some decide that they won’t register,” he said. “We also have other problems, such as migrant workers.”
Puthea has estimated that about 1.1 million Cambodian migrant workers live in Thailand, and each would have had to return to their home communes if they wanted to register to vote, with CNRP calls for registration in Thailand or along the border denied by the NEC.
At the Phsar Kandal III commune offices in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district yesterday, Chrin Saly, head of the voter registration operation there, said there had been a last-minute rush of people coming yesterday to enrol on what they believed was the final day.
“There were 76 people who registered on time. In the previous weeks, we were registering only 30 to 40 people per day,” Saly said. “Some are dragging their feet. Some were not sure if they wanted to register in Phnom Penh or [at hometowns] in the provinces.”
“I am a bit upset that they did not come earlier. They only come when it is close to the deadline,” he said. “Each one takes about five minutes to register.”In nearby Chay Chamneas commune, the office’s registration director, Chan Dara, said that he, too, had seen a large increase in registrations over the past few days compared to the lull in recent weeks.
“Today, we registered about 129 people,” Dara said. “I don’t think there will be so many people who come and register tomorrow. People believe that the registration ends today, but we have told those who come to register . . . to help disseminate the news.”
Koul Panha, head of local elections monitor Comfrel, said he believed the NEC should extend the registration period for far longer than one day to allow “hundreds of thousands” more to hear about the extension and go to their commune office to enrol.
“Extending by a day is not enough,” Panha said, adding that the almost 2 million eligible voters who will not be able to vote in the commune elections was a clear failure for the post-2013 election reform.
“The NEC said that having 80 percent is good, but it is not good,” he continued. “We have a lot of trust in the quality of the data, but we still have problems with the amount of voters, which is very low.”
Meanwhile, a lawyer for the opposition yesterday said its officials had identified a total of 4,793 people – all but three of whom were Vietnamese – it believed had registered to vote despite not being citizens, and that the party would file a complaint when the NEC begins accepting them after the list is released.
“Most suspects are Vietnamese. There are two Taiwanese, and one Thai. The rest are Vietnamese,” Meng Sopheary said. She added the CNRP could not confirm the people were not citizens, and would only be sending a list of those they were suspicious about.
“We still use the same principles,” she said. “We notice their command of language, and secondly, there are activists who are at the local level who know them.”