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Nine million old ballot papers create headache

Nine million old ballot papers create headache

The National Election Committee (NEC) is facing a dilemma: it does not know what

to do with more than 9 million ballot papers from the 1998 general election.

The aging ballots take up hundreds of square feet of space at its increasingly busy

headquarters at the Ministry of Interior. Storing them and protecting them from the

elements is causing NEC officials sleepless nights.

"We are busy with [preparations for] the commune elections and need more space

for our operations. But we don't know how we are supposed to dispose of these ballot

papers," said general secretary, Im Suosdey. The papers, he added, are spilling

out from several rooms in the three-story building.

Six million papers are actual votes, with the balance over-runs, the NEC said. The

high number of spares was due to the requirement that each polling booth had to hold

a certain number of papers.

The reason for the NEC's quandary is that the election law in force then was silent

on procedures about holding and disposing of the ballots. Although three years have

passed, the NEC is concerned that any attempt to touch them in Cambodia's politically-charged

atmosphere could re-ignite old controversies.

One such controversy was over a complaint by the opposition that ballot counting

by election officials was stopped for two hours in Banteay Meanchey and Kampong Cham.

The opposition alleged local officials deliberately voided some of the ballots; that

led to demands for a "proper" recount and check of all voided ballots.

Also controversial was the formula to determine the allocation of seats.

The NEC is reluctant to deal alone with what it regards as a poisoned chalice, and

has written to the government and civil society asking for suggestions.

"It is being suggested that these could be consigned to flames in the presence

of representatives from all the three national political parties, civil society and

the press," said an NEC official.

As for the millions of votes to be cast in the February, 2002 commune election, the

Commune Election Law prescribes that those ballots need be preserved for only two

years.

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