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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vote set to go after late scare

Vote set to go after late scare

Vote set to go after late scare

CCMBODIA'S elections were hours away from being postponed for technical reasons just

a few days ago, on Wednesday July 22.

Only quick action by National Election Committee (NEC) technical staff and a last

minute charter flight from Bangkok ensured the delivery of the indelible ink, which

will be used to mark voters' fingers to prevent them from trying to cast more than

one ballot.

The 3 tons of ink had been stranded in Delhi, India, and needed to be transhipped

through Bangkok where it was picked up by a charter flight bound for Phnom Penh.

It was not clear what caused the shipping delay, though one source said that there

had been an attempt to hide the waybills - a charge that was denied by the NEC.

Another source said Thai Airways failed to reserve sufficient space on the Delhi-Bangkok

flight.

The absolute deadline for receiving the ink was the morning of July 22. If it had

been any longer, one NEC official said the election would be delayed by up to a week.

NEC technical adviser Bruce Hatch, who has been involved in elections around the

world, was in fine spirits when he saw that the last big technical hitch to Election

'98 disappear. "It doesn't matter where you are or how much preparation you

put in, it always comes down to the wire," he said.

Polling day and vote counting are now expected to proceed as scheduled, a lengthy

and complex process that begins at 6am on July 26 with the arrival of the polling

station committees (PSCs) at approximately 12,000 polling stations around the country.

It will all end with the allocation of National Assembly seats about one month later.

PSC staff will verify their identities with election observers and party representatives

before padlocking and sealing their sole ballot box in front of everyone, according

to the official election schedule.

Ballot serial numbers are then recorded, and at 7am sharp, balloting should begin.

Polling staff are instructed to vote first, followed by the agents and Cambodian

observers that are registered at the station.

Polling is scheduled to end at 4pm, with no lunch break. But if a station happens

to open late, it must also close late to give all voters an equal opportunity to

cast ballots, an election technician explained.

Then comes the first step in a series of sealing, storing, transporting and counting

of the ballots that has been planned to ward off any attempts at fraud.

The ballot box is sealed and placed in a large blue waterproof bag, which is itself

then sealed.

A PSC statement that includes the number of ballots used and the serial numbers of

all the seals is then attached to the bag and separately sealed.

"There's a lot of security measures," one technician said confidently.

"Ten times more than in most countries."

Ballot boxes that can be transported to a Commune Election Commission (CEC) before

dark will be moved on July 26, but most will spend the night at the polling station.

Some international observers have already spoken of plans to "sleep with the

ballots".

The morning of Monday, July 27 begins with a complicated process termed "the

reconciliation of the ballots" by the CECs.

The sealed PSC statement is opened along with the ballot boxes to determine if the

number of ballots, and spoiled ballots, inside equals the number used.

If there are too few ballots it is no big deal, according to an election worker.

"In 1993 when we were attacked by the Khmer Rouge we lost about 15 or 20 ballots,"

he said. "People just ran for their lives. They weren't worried about getting

a piece of paper into the ballot box."

But even one too many ballots could be a big problem. One fake ballot in a box could

indicate that 'telegraphing' occurred - where one blank ballot is smuggled out and

marked by a party activist. The ballot is then given to a voter who must deposit

the pre-marked ballot in the ballot box and return from the station with another

blank ballot to begin a chain of controlled voting.

The box and accompanying materials will be repackaged and sent to the Provincial

Election Commission (PEC) for inspection if there's any discrepancy.

If, in such a case, it is determined that the results in the ballot box will affect

the final allocation of seats for that province, a recommendation must immediately

be made to the NEC to cancel the ballots, the technician said.

But assuming all of a CEC's ballot boxes check out, counting begins. The final total

will be radioed to the PEC, added to other preliminary CEC results there, then radioed

to the NEC in Phnom Penh.

At the NEC public information center in the Interior Ministry compound, grand plans

have been made to publicize the unofficial results as soon as possible. A large-screen

television is to be rented to display up-to-date results and there is also a plan

to immediately post the vote tallies on the NEC's website.

"On the evening of the first day we will have enough to know what the trend

for the results will be," said the technician. "In 1993, the results were

about the same the whole way through."

But the technician warned that the radioed unofficial results are just that - unofficial.

"They are just for curiosity," he said.

By Aug 1, all the preliminary results are expected to be totaled. During the counting

process, the ballots from the PECs will be repackaged and sealed for transport to

the NEC for verification.

Official results are expected to be announced in mid-to-late August. If any party

challenges the results, a complaint process is set in motion that will likely see

an appeal reach the Constitutional Council.

If a complaint is successful, the council can order a re-vote in the affected area,

which could further delay the announcement of the official results. But once the

result is deemed official, the allocation of Assembly seats is expected to begin

the next day.

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