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
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
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
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
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