National Election Committee spokesman Hang Puthea yesterday maintained that the country remains on track to hold commune elections in June 2017 despite the body again postponing the registration of voters in a new digital system because necessary equipment had not yet been acquired.
Puthea said voter registration was now anticipated to begin in mid-August at the earliest. It marks the fourth delay to hit the process, which was initially set to begin in March.
“I estimate that this work could begin in August or September,” Puthea said, explaining that the NEC was waiting for 2,400 computers to be purchased with a €6.7 million ($7.6 million) grant from the European Union.
“It’s not a concern. Voter registration will take three months, and our calculation is that there is nothing that cannot be done, but we have to work harder.”
The NEC was overhauled last year and now includes four members appointed by the Cambodia National Rescue Party and four selected by the Cambodian People’s Party.
Puthea, the ninth and “neutral” member of the body, said the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) was contracted to purchase the computers and related equipment and would handle the cash directly.
Once the equipment was received, 7,000 people will be trained to operate the system, which will log the biometric data of almost 10 million eligible voters in a bid to combat fraud, he said.
Reached yesterday, a UNOPS spokesman said more details about the competitive bidding process to supply the computers would be published online and in local newspapers soon.
Koul Panha, head of election monitor Comfrel, said an August start date left enough time if things ran smoothly, but unforeseen problems could cause further postponements.
“This is a new system; three months may be a big challenge,” Panha said, also noting monsoon rains could further complicate matters. “The NEC should release a clear draft schedule . . . It’s important they respect the period of elections, which the law says is [every] five years.”
The NEC’s Puthea said the government had to announce an election date nine months in advance. “I don’t worry; it will not [be pushed back].”
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton