A NEW regulation from the National Election Committee (NEC) appears to water down
a compromise intended to protect voters from intimidation and give them greater anonymity,
The regulation allows votes to be counted at the 'sub-commune' level - in groups
as small as three villages - instead of the five to seven villages that make up the
Last month, a compromise that changed the vote count from the village-level to the
communes helped end an opposition boycott of the National Assembly.
A commune-level ballot count was seen as a way to ensure the winner of the polls
didn't know which villages voted predominantly for the loser.
But NEC regulation 7.9.2 on ballot counting states: "The ballots of at least
three polling stations shall be mixed together in a large waterproof bag."
Critics worry that "at least three polling stations" will likely be interpreted
as "only three".
"To go from the commune count to a sort of inter-village commune level seems
to be an unwelcome move," said one Western diplomat.
NEC deputy chairman Kassie Neou denied that the regulation amounts to a change in
policy and said that votes will not be widely counted on a sub-commune level.
"If the commune has three or four polling stations, that is how it will be counted.
If it has 19, that is how it will be counted. We don't specify five or seven [villages]
per count. There has been no change. All the commune votes will be mixed and counted
together for maximum security."
An electoral aide, however, left little doubt that votes would be counted in clusters
of three villages, asserting that constraints imposed by election equipment effectively
mean three villages is all that can be counted at one time.
"We don't want to lose a ballot. The containers we have to hold the ballot boxes
- they are big blue bags - can only hold three boxes," he said.
One critic called it "ridiculous" to risk increased voter intimidation
because of the size of ballot receptacles. "They can get bigger containers,"
One vote counting change Kassie Neou did acknowledge was that the NEC has decided
votes will be held overnight and counted the next morning.
"People work all day, it is a big day. They transport documents to the commune.
That is already 15 hours of work," he explained.
He said post-vote ballot security will be guaranteed by poll staff and national observers.