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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Voter registration tops 97%

Voter registration tops 97%

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ANOTHER SATISFIED CUSTOMER

An amputee voter in Phnom Penh receives his registration card.

THE European Union is happy that more than 5.3 million Cambodians - 97% of all potential

voters - have registered for the July 26 polls that it is helping to pay for.

Cambodian NGOs charged with monitoring the registration process are however a bit

more pragmatic, pinpointing systematic abuses in the process.

But more worrying is the National Election Committee's (NEC) admission that although

it is investigating allegations of double, underage and illegal alien registrations,

it can't possibly take action against all lawbreakers.

If double registrees are caught "they will face the confiscation of their identification

card, lose their right to vote and possibly go to prison - but that is not our job,"

said NEC vice president Kassie Neou.

"There is nothing we can do [to catch them] ... We don't have the time to take

on other tasks."

A senior EU official said of the registration result: "It's higher than any

of us could have imagined four weeks ago.

"Everyone was saying that there wouldn't be the same enthusiasm as in 1993.

The NEC and the PECs (Provincial Election Commissions) have been given a boost of

confidence. The atmosphere is different now. The registration process showed the

determination of the Cambodian people to take part in their own governance."

"In terms of quantity, I'd say the registration process was very good, efficient,"

said Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL) executive director Lay Sovathara.

"[But] in terms of quality, not so good. I can't give a percentage of how many

illegal registrations there were. Overall, I'd give the registration process a 9

out of 10. I am hopeful that the electorate understand the voting process better

now than in 1993. NGOs have had five years to train people in democracy. I'm optimistic

that people will know whom they will vote for, if nobody intimidates them."

Kuol Panha, executive director of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (COFFEL)

said: "I'd give the registration process a passing grade, not perfect. The total

process was okay, despite technical difficulties and mistakes. I'd give it a grade

of 5.5-6.5 - still room for improvement at the final exams of elections. But I'm

happy that there was not a big amount of violence. Our relations with many of the

PECs are good, cooperative, and improving with time."

Phnom Penh, Pailin, Ratanakiri, Sihanoukville and Preah Vihear provinces recorded

registrations of over 100% of the initial estimates.

The 15,746 Pailin registrations, for example, was 180% of estimates of the voter

population.

"People in rural areas are coming back to places like Pailin to register,"

the EU official explained. "Any little center of population is going to attract

more people than the surrounding countryside. People registered where they wanted

to, not necessarily where they live. We also don't know how accurate the census figures

really are."

On June 15, NEC director Im Suoursdei announced the discovery of 20-30 multiple registrations.

As 77% of the voter registration cards have yet to be processed by the NEC Computer

Center, more will undoubtedly turn up in computer checks.

However, their statistical significance would appear dubious, observers say, given

the inking of voters' thumbs.

Sovathara of COFFREL said: "When I was an international observer at NAMFREL

for the Philippine elections, the ink used could be scrubbed off in 20 minutes. The

ink here would take 24 hours, making it impossible for flying voters."

Neou was also confident about the inking process. "They will be cheating on

the registration, but not the vote," he said.

The simplest scam the local watchdogs have found is the registration of those who

are not qualified to vote: minors under 18-years and Vietnamese aliens.

One Funcinpec official, asked by a foreign journalist how easy it was to get fake

ID papers, said: "I could get you one!" and then flashed a card he, as

a US resident, had acquired illegally for the 1998 elections.

COFFEL and COMFREL have both issued reports based on their eyewitness observations

of registration at thousands of polling stations in all provinces of Cambodia. Examples

from their reports follow:

- Lacking proper ID, underage Cambodians can be registered as voters if their age

is attested to by two reputable witnesses. Such witnesses invariably include village

and commune chiefs.

On May 31, in Sandan district of Kompong Thom province, the registrar asked a young

man: "How old are you?" "I am seventeen," was the reply. The

official wrote "18" on his registration card. When an observer asked why,

the registrar showed a letter from a local village chief which read: "This boy

is exactly 18 years old. You must register him." The registrar commented: "Don't

you see the letter from the village chief? I must register him."

In Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham, Takeo, Prey Veng and Kampot provinces, the practice

is for village chiefs to issue letters that guarantee minors the right to register.

At one center in Kampot, ten minors were refused registration, but succeeded after

intervention by their village chief. According to COFFEL reports from Siem Riep and

Battambang, a village chief was waiting to intervene just outside most registration

centers.

- Non-citizens of Vietnamese origin have been targeted as supporters of the CPP.

Reports of the registration of Vietnamese who are unable to speak Khmer have come

from Phnom Penh, Battambang, Kandal, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Thom.

In Kiri Vong district of Takeo province, district police issued ID cards to illegal

Vietnamese immigrants for 150,000 riels apiece. Fifty Vietnamese were reported registered

at one polling station.

In Kandal, at Takmao Primary School, a policeman vouched for 13 Vietnamese aliens.

In Rakar Koung commune in Mouk Kampoul district "large numbers of Vietnamese

registered to vote on the strength of information supplied by a Mrs. Poung Chivket."

On May 25, at a registration center in Phnom Penh, 73 Vietnamese were registered

with family cards signed by two police officers. At the same registration station,

64 suspect Vietnamese were registered using family cards with improper official seals.

Cheap tricks, though are legion. CPP officials may take thumb-prints, record registration

serial numbers and make voters drink from water cups containing bullets. But can

they make good those threats to identify those who vote against them?

"The ballot is secret," states the EU official flatly. "Rural people

are not gullible or as afraid as people make out. They care about voting and understand

this election."

"The key is the secret ballot," agrees Sovathara. "There are all kinds

of tricks to make people afraid, but the point is that the vote is secret. no one

knows your vote. we have to explain this to the people: 'You can vote for whomever

you like'."

But while the sanctity of the individual ballot is maintained, the new accounting

process of as few as three villages can, say critics, allow local chiefs to identify

villages that are opposition strongholds.

 

Voter registration figures

 

PROVINCE

Total registered voters

% of potential voters

Banteay Meanchey

256,803

96

Battambang

315,345

84

Kampong Cham

795,058

96

Kampong Chhnang

185,891

99

Kampong Speu

265,644

96

Kampong Thom

254,812

93

Kampot

247,982

97

Kandal

538,273

100

Koh Kong

60,639

110

Kratie

120,578

99

Mondulkiri

12,875

88

Phnom Penh

537,924

118

Preah Vihear

53,881

106

Prey Veng

473,506

94

Pursat

144,092

92

Rattanakiri

41,860

106

Siem Reap

303,546

96

Sihanoukville

75,620

124

Stung Treng

35,675

94

Svay Rieng

234,249

94

Takeo

360,000

92

Kep

13,542

97

Pailin

15,746

180

TOTAL

5,343,541

97%

 

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