THE National Election Committee (NEC) announced on February 12 it will extend the
voter registration deadline nationwide by between two and five days. NEC secretary-general
Tep Nytha said the longer registration period would now end on February 20.
Nytha said that as of February 11 almost 940,000 people had registered to vote in
the July 27 general election. Around 1.5 million people are thought to have become
eligible to vote since the commune elections in February 2002.
The NEC has also removed from the voters' roll the names of some 54,000 people who
have died or moved house since the commune elections. Nytha said 1,165 communes will
extend for two days, 132 communes for three days, 92 communes for four days and 234
communes for five days.
The announcement follows stringent criticisms from civil society at a meeting with
the NEC on February 8. Attendees said many commune councils, which organize registration
at the local level, were ill-informed about the process. The result was that many
potential voters had been refused permission to register.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) has monitored voter registration in
twelve of the 24 provinces and municipalities. It noted registration had proceeded
without serious incident, but said the lower than expected registration rates were
a cause for concern.
"Procedural irregularities, fraud and intimidation appear to benefit the ruling
political party, raising serious questions about the impartiality of the process,"
the NGO commented in a report on the issue.
CCHR also blamed the low registration rate on the lack of advance information made
available to the public. Part of the problem was the NEC's voter education program,
which it characterized as inadequate. It also noted restricted access to information.
The registration period, which started on Jan 15, coincided with a visit by the international
affairs office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI). They were in Cambodia
between Jan 28 and Feb 4.
NDI said the extension should be matched with a concerted effort to register disadvantaged
groups of potential voters, including the poor, homeless and citizens living away
from home such as students and factory workers.