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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Parties gear up as election process begins

Parties gear up as election process begins

Representatives from six political parties discussed their concerns with the first

stage of the election process, as the country heads into an election year. That first

stage - registration of voters - starts on January 17 and lasts for one month. Election

day itself is provisionally set for July 27, 2003.

The December 19 meeting of the group called Conflict Prevention in the Cambodian

Elections (Copcel) was closed to the media, but an attendee, who requested anonymity,

said the idea behind it was to improve the culture of dialogue to reduce election-related

violence.

"Conflict can be reduced when we give space to politicians to express their

concerns," he said. "Copcel is a high-level discussion involving political

parties, civil society, donors and government authorities."

He told the Post that some party members had said they were worried an estimated

two million voters, who are believed eligible to vote but are not yet on the voters'

roll, would be unable to do so in the four week timeframe.

Other election observers have expressed their fears that the powers given to the

commune clerks could be abused. The revisions to the election law transferred the

process of registering voters to the commune council clerks.

Most eligible voters will not need to register - the voter roll used in the February

2002 commune elections will simply be updated. But those who want to get on the roll,

for instance because they have turned 18 since the local elections, will need to

do so through the commune clerk in their commune.

Concerns were raised before the commune elections that the clerks, who are appointed

by the Ministry of Interior and report to it, were not sufficiently independent.

The amended election law does go some way to countering that by requiring each commune

council to appoint at least one council member to oversee the clerk's work during

the registration process.

But with the ruling Cambodian People's Party holding the commune chief position in

virtually all 1,621 communes, there are still fears that the process will not be

independent.

Hang Puthea, the executive director of election monitor NICFEC, said both his organization

and Comfrel, another election monitoring NGO, were taking steps to ensure the registration

process went smoothly and clerks followed election regulations.

The two NGOs will send 7,000 observers to voter registration stations, he said, and

NICFEC had distributed one million leaflets informing people about the registration

process, with most handed out in rural areas.

"At the moment we cannot comment on the [actual] neutrality or independence

of the commune clerks," he said. "But we will follow them carefully. They

need to ensure their work is independent, neutral, and not in the interests of one

or other particular party."

Puthea said more than one mil-lion people had not registered for the February 2002

commune elections, either because of a lack of information, for fear of political

violence, or simply through free choice. A total 6.8 million citizens were registered

to vote in 1998.

Independence was also on the mind of Funcinpec's Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who called

on December 17 for the voter registration period to be extended if the final list

contains less than 95 percent of eligible voters. He also asked the National Election

Committee to "increase the number of people watching over the commune clerks."

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