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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy sees the Devil in the details of NEC's rules

Rainsy sees the Devil in the details of NEC's rules

I am puzzled to read in the Phnom Penh Post (September 21, 2006) NEC Secretary-General

Tep Nytha's letter saying: "it was to satisfy the opposition parties that the

voter cards of the previous elections were abandoned as a valid document both to

register and to vote."

This would be indeed the first time that the CPP-dominated NEC would have made a

decision with far-reaching consequences just to satisfy the opposition. We did denounce

some irregularities in the past but the remedy they now choose proves to be worse

than the disease.

Voter cards were by far the most commonly used documents until the last elections

in 2003. I maintain that suppressing these voter cards under the present conditions,

with so little preparation, and adopting new procedures for registering and voting

create confusion that tends to exclude many non-CPP members from the election process.

Only those who are registered as CPP members receive adequate information, assistance

and facilities to ensure that they will be able to cast their ballots on Voting Day.

This is attributable to the fact that virtually all the state officials who deal

with potential voters (village chiefs, commune chiefs, commune clerks, police officers

and election officials) are affiliated with the CPP or are not in a position to disobey

the CPP.

Tep Nytha refers to the existing election law as a legal constraint that would not

allow the NEC to devise and implement a more open process. He should specify that

this law and subsequent amendments were adopted by the current CPP-dominated National

Assembly in spite of protests from the opposition. Up to mid-2006, when all important

decisions for the next elections had already been made, the NEC was exclusively composed

of members who came from the CPP and its ally Funcinpec.

As justification of the new registering and voting procedures stemming from the suppression

of voter cards, the NEC puts forward its allegedly good intentions such as the desire

to help voters and to increase their awareness of, and participation in, the election

process.

But the NEC's initiative actually creates an unnecessary, untimely and unfair hurdle

for millions of potential voters, especially those who are not affiliated with the

CPP, as evidenced by countless reports from independent sources about the resulting

confusion that prevails throughout the country. The road to hell is paved with good

intentions...

Many observers are not inclined to follow the technicalities of the new registering

and voting procedures, which appear to be full of boring details. But in many cases,

such as election preparations, the Devil is in the details.

Tep Nytha writes: "As imposed by the electoral law, the period for voter registration

begins on October 1 and ends on December 31; not in the worst of the rainy season

from August to October as mentioned in Sam Rainsy's letter."

In fact, the crucial period is much shorter: between October 1 and October 20, when

names and other personal data have to be corrected on voter lists and first-time

registrations have to be made. That period will be hectic with both voters and commune

officials facing unusual constraints and pressure. This is especially the case for

the most densely populated communes that are the opposition's strongholds; it

makes little sense to reason in terms of average for Cambodia's 1,621 communes as

Tep Nytha does in his letter.

This year will be different from the previous years because the requirements for

voters for the 2007 elections will be different from the previous elections. At the

previous elections, voters could solely rely on their voter cards to simultaneously

prove their voting right and their identity at the polling stations. There was no

need for them to make any prior démarche (such as checking their names and

other data on voter lists) before Voting Day and there was no need to worry about

having an ID card.

The suppression of voter cards this year means that they now have to verify the accuracy

of their registration on their commune's voter lists and to get a national ID card

from the police, which is problematic for many people, especially the poor in the

countryside.

In the ongoing and unusual CPP membership drive throughout the country, villagers

who accept to adhere to the ruling party are provided with the adequate support to

go through all the administrative procedures so as to effectively preserve their

voting right. This is political discrimination.

The Cambodia Daily on September 20 reported: "Ngeth Virak, commune clerk for

Satpoang commune in Kampot province's Chhuk district, said that names, dates of birth

or places of birth on nearly 85 percent of the [voter information] notices issued

to villagers in his commune did not match the information on their identity cards."

I have received similar information from many communes in several provinces showing

serious and countless errors pertaining to voters' names, genders, ages and addresses.

I am afraid that failure to correct those errors within the October 1 to October

20 registration period will result in a large number of voters being turned away

at the polls in 2007.

Tep Nytha minimizes problems when he writes: "As in any country with a permanent

electoral list, the procedure for correcting a name is swift and easy: simply show

up with any legal ID document and the Clerk of the Commune/Sangkat will fill the

paperwork for the correction to be done."

Only naive observers would believe such a statement that ignores the administrative

harassment faced every day by non-CPP supporters who suffer from discriminatory issuance

by commune officials or police officers of birth certificates, certificates of residence,

family books, ID cards, and other administrative documents or authorizations necessary

for the effective exercise of citizens' rights.

Sam Rainsy - Member of Parliament

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