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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Perfecting the polling

Perfecting the polling

Last month the National Election Committee announced its budget,

and overhauled registration strategy ahead of the April 2007 commune council elections.

Battered with criticism from election monitoring NGOs after the recent 2003 elections,

NEC President Im Sousdey says he is determined to alter public opinion. He

spoke to Sam Rith about his plan for free and fair elections in Cambodia.

W

hat is your response to past criticisms of the NEC's performance in previous national

elections?

We cannot be perfect; sometimes people over-react to our mistakes. Before people

have thought that we manipulate the vote, but with our new procedures we cannot manipulate.

After the polling hours we count every vote by hand and stamp it. Everything we control,

no one could take even one ballot without our noticing it.

What will be the role of election monitors in the 2007 vote?

We will work together with them. There will be independent observers in all polling

stations. They will perform "parallel counting" and can calculate the results

themselves.

Can NEC members belong to political parties?

All management must resign from political parties for ever. This includes staff at

the provincial level too.

What is your comment on the allegations, made most recently by the opposition party,

that voters are bribed to vote for a certain political party?

The NEC will take action against people who give or receive bribes. But, in general

this is very difficult. They give before the campaign or they build roads or wells

[in exchange for votes]. We cannot monitor before the campaigns, but during the campaigns

this is wrong.

How much does NEC spend on organizing for the coming commune elections?

We have produced seven million voter information sheets to provide to the people.

We will spend about $200,000 - half from the United Nations Development Program and

the other half from the French Embassy.

What was the NEC's role in the village chief elections?.

None. The process for selection village chiefs was under the Ministry of Interior.

How many staff does NEC have? Will you hire more staff during the election?

Between elections we have 200 standing staff including drivers and guards. Yes, we

will [hire more staff during the election].

Does NEC work under the Ministry of Interior?

Our constitution is like the Constitutional Council and others. Our budget is set

by the National Assembly. After the National Assembly approves it, we have to get

the money from the government.

How much is the budget for the election?

About $13 million - $6.5 million from the government and the rest from donors. In

the 2002 election, we spent more than $15 million. We spent more than $2 per voter.

What's your observation of people's knowledge of elections? Is it improving? Are

they learning more about the election process?

Compared with the 1993 or 1998 elections, many people already know a little bit about

the election procedure today. More than 80 percent of people vote. Each time we educate

people about elections through sports, comedy, karaoke, and by using loudspeakers

on remorques going from one village to another.

Does the NEC know the number of ethnic Vietnamese? What is the NEC's strategy for

registering this group to vote?

We don't know yet how many Vietnamese there are. It is the legacy of UNTAC: UNTAC

gave voter cards to many people, and based on voter cards, people could register

for voting. Now these people cannot use these voter cards, they can only use ID cards.

And I don't know whether the Vietnamese have ID cards: it is out of my capacity.

The ID has to be given by the government. The ID card is more difficult to get than

a voter card and it needs many formal documents and takes time to get.

Not having special voter cards will save much money. Each time we spent $2 million

or $3 million to take photos to put on voter cards, and people got bored with it

as well during registration time.

I hope that in the future, once the civil registration goes smoothly, no one will

need to go to register as a voter, because we will base [electoral rolls] on the

civil registry. We will take the names of those 18 years old and up, and put them

into the voter registry like other developed countries. Now we go step by step.

What is the main goal of providing voter information?

We are improving our voting process. Before we were always accused of not doing well

even though 80 percent of Cambodians went to vote. It was alleged that voters could

not find their names, or that we changed the polling station and so on. Before, we

used voter cards and the voter cards had the code number of each voter. And now we

will stop using voter cards. We use only ID cards or other legal identification cards

to help voters find their names and correct their names and dates of birth if there

is something wrong with the ID cards. This will help our polling station staff to

find the names of voters and let the voters to vote. If someone does not have an

ID card, they can still go to vote. It is not required by the law for voting.

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