NEC says ghost names, transient voters, behind culling of registration
The National Election Committee has begun publishing the preliminary voter lists
for Cambodia's 2008 National Elections, triggering a storm of criticism from the
political opposition and local election monitoring NGOs. Critics say the ruling Cambodian
People's Party is using the NEC to manipulate voter registration nationwide. "We
are always criticized and people always accuse the NEC of being biased," said
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha. "But those people have never seen the real
work of the NEC."The recently married Nytha, who now has a new-born baby daughter,
began working at the NEC in 1997. He became Secretary General in 2002. Although Nytha
is part of the CPP quota of representatives, like all NEC appointees he has officially
given up ties to his party. He says the NEC's decision to "clean up" the
voter lists has drawn undeserved criticism. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party claims
that tens of thousands of names have been added to inflate voter lists in favor of
the CPP on polling day, and tens of thousands of real citizens who wanted to register
as voters have not been able to do so because of lack of information, administrative
harassment and confusion. The SRP also says that CPP-controlled commune councils
have arbitrarily deleted 573,981 names from the lists, including a large number of
non-CPP voters. Nytha responds that whatever the NEC does, "the SRP just complains
anyway." He spoke to the Post's Cat Barton and Vong Sokheng in his Ministry
of Interior office, the walls of which are lined with endless voter lists.
Why is the NEC "cleaning up" voter lists?
There were many ghost names on the voter lists. This is for two reasons. Firstly,
registration has to be done where you live - if you move to another commune, you
have to register at your new commune and inform your old commune that you have moved
and will not be voting there. But many people don't bother to tell their old commune
that they have moved. Secondly we have no way of removing names automatically when
a voter dies, unless the family reports the death to the commune officially. This
year, the NEC has been trying to clean up the voter lists and this has earned us
lots of criticism. But cleaning up the voter lists has not only happened this year
- we've been working on it since 2004. We found many ghost voters on the registration
lists in 2006. Next year, 2008, is the national election so we really need to clean
up the lists. So 2 August 2007 to 13 September 2007 was the NEC's "Cleaning
Process." But we have not yet removed any names so people can go to the commune
and see if their name is on the list to be removed. If it is and they don't think
it should be, they can complain to the commune council. Last time, the [commune clerks]
removed by accident 90,000 voters, out of 653,000 possible voters. So the commune
clerks released on October 27 the final lists. People have five days to complain
if there are any problems with this list. In total, voters have 33 days to check
and ensure their name is on the list.
What do you say to criticism that the "Cleaning Process" of the voter lists
is politically motivated?
The NRP, the SRP and Funcinpec have set up a joint committee to examine
the lists, and it will keep going until October 30. It will check the lists and make
recommendations to the commune council, which will make a final decision on the lists.
The NEC's policy is that if there is no evidence that a person is dead or has moved,
you cannot remove their name. Even though we have a process like this, the SRP still
complains. They have made 40 complaints to the NEC and their complaints do not identify
the names of voters, they just complain to the Commune Council that their decision
on the lists was not right. Even if the SRP itself has a member on the commune council
and have helped to make the decision, for example in the Tonle Bassac district, the
commune council included SRP members and the decision on the voter list was unanimous,
but the SRP still complained.
Comfrel in its report on the April 2007 commune elections said
many people didn't know where to vote or couldn't find their names on the voter lists
and were hence denied their vote. What has the NEC done to improve voter access?
We have solved a number of problems since the 2007 commune elections. Now the lists
are alphabetical. Before that, they were done according to when you had registered.
Secondly, we have arranged that there will be one designated official at each polling
station to help people find their names. We used to announce the location of polls
before Election Day and then on the day itself put up lists. But all this information
will be given out earlier this time. We worry people don't know where to vote, so
we make it easier.
Why is voter turnout is dropping in Cambodia?
Firstly, the number of people who go to vote is actually increasing, but the percentage
of eligible voters who vote has gone down. This relates to the fact that there are
still ghost voters, which boosts the official number of eligible voters. Secondly,
voter turnout relates to social and political issues. For example, in Poipet in 2003
there were 40,000 voters on the list but only 20,000 people voted. Poipet has a very
mobile population - some people register to vote, then move to Thailand. People move
faster than we can update the lists. Also, if we compare Cambodia to other countries,
they have low voter turnout too.
Maybe when the atmosphere of society is good, people don't care so much, they get
apathetic about voting. But when a country has many problems, people want to go and
vote. I think this may have happened in Cambodia. Also living conditions, more people
have begun to leave the provinces and come to the cities to work. They have not registered
to vote here so they cannot vote and they don't go back to their province to vote.
We would like three days off for workers to go to vote. We are paying attention to
Does Cambodia's youngergeneration vote?
If you are 18 before July 27, 2008, then you can register to vote. The number of
people who reach voting age goes up around 2 percent a year. In 2005, there were
225,000 18- to 19-year-old voters, and in 2006, there were 226,000 18 to 19-year-old
voters. We estimate that around 90 percent of young people register to vote. After
you vote, you just tick your box and then your name is ticked off the list and we
store the information in case of a complaint. But in Cambodia it is voluntary, whether
you register or vote, it is not necessary to check up on exactly who in the population
Is the NEC independent?
In the full meaning of the word, yes, the National Election Committee is independent.
But for the budget, no. For example, for this election we need $17 million. The government
will give us about $10 million. The Japanese have promised about $3 million and the
rest we still have to find. We are having meetings with donors to try and get the
additional funding now.