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Experts warn of likely 10-14 day election delay

Experts warn of likely 10-14 day election delay

SACRIFICES have been made and many corners cut to squeeze an election out of Cambodia

on July 26 with "minimum standards" of credibility, but despite pressure

to stick to the date, election technicians now insist that a delay of between ten

to 14 days is now unavoidable.

The biggest problem, according to the experts, is a postponement in voter registration

that will cause a domino effect on all other major election dates.

The latest election timetable sets the establishment of voter registration stations

around the country at April 20. Voter registration is to begin a week later on April

27. The European Union's 1,700 registration kits, election workers report, are currently

expected to arrive in Cambodia on May 6 - more than 16 days late.

Additionally, election technicians are now concerned that 28 days will not be enough

to give all voters in the country's many remote areas the opportunity to register.

One estimated that no more than 70% of potential voters would get registered under

the current circumstances.

Rumors that a polling-date delay would be necessary have persisted for months, but

they had been limited to whispers under the CPP's insistence that July 26 was a set

and unchangeable date.

Despite this set-in-stone attitude, all other election-related dates have remained

fluid as the National Election Commission bends and twists around budgetary shortages,

technical pitfalls and political problems.

Long-anticipated amendments to the election law were passed March 31 by the National

Assembly to readjust the election timetable and alter candidacy requirements to ensure

the participation of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and other self-exiles.

But even as the amendments were being debated, Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng, whom

experts say is "well-informed on the subject", hinted on the Assembly floor

that the election law may arrive in parliament for a third time to discuss a polling-date

delay.

Sar Kheng later told the Post that Cambodia's "international friends"

had mentioned to him the unavoidable registration delays and it was his personal

assessment - not the government's nor the Assembly's nor the CPP's - that a polling

delay will be needed.

"The international community's assistance is late... this is a technical problem

that will affect the election date," Sar Kheng said. "I told the Assembly

that if it is necessary for the election to be delayed, it should only be by ten

to 14 days."

The minister's assessment mirrors that of election experts in the Election Bureau

at the Interior. Without such a delay, they warn, minimum international standards

cannot be met.

NEC President Chheng Phon said he was unsure if a delay was unavoidable, but that

the NEC would meet soon to discuss the issue of the late registration kits.

"I do not know [about a delay], this appears to be a technical issue,"

Chheng Phon said.

"I don't want the election to be delayed, but if it must be we have to give

the National Assembly time to amend the law."

An election expert added that the move to delay elections should be publicized -

and at least tacitly approved - before the April 19 meeting of the "Friends

of Cambodia" in Bangkok.

Additional election assistance could be forthcoming at the meeting if technical progress

on elections and the return of Prince Ranariddh outweigh concerns over mounting intimidation

and killings of opposition members in the provinces.

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