Election monitoring NGOs and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) have accused commune
clerks of demanding excessive citizenship documents, which has deterred voters and
led to fewer registrations than expected.
Sam Rainsy leads a demonstration to the National Assembly on January 27 to protest the registration process. The protestors also marched to the UNDP and European Union offices.
As Cambodia hit the half-way mark in the month-long voter registration period, which
began on January 17, the National Election Committee (NEC) said just 315,000 people
had registered for the July 27 general election. The NEC said most of those registering
in the past two weeks were youth voters.
The total number of potential voters is estimated at 6.8 million, which includes
around 5.1 million who had already registered for last year's commune elections and
do not need to re-register.
On January 27 more than 500 villagers, monks and party members joined opposition
leader Sam Rainsy on a march to protest electoral problems he claims are stifling
people's ability to register.
Rainsy called on the NEC to hold commune authorities responsible for demanding "excessive
requirements for proof of residency or citizenship which many citizens, especially
the poor and the young ones, cannot fulfill".
"Discriminatory measures and practices ... are not acceptable by international
standards of democracy and will lead to an election that will be anything but free
and fair," Rainsy wrote in a statement. He added that red tape, apathy and administrative
harassment by local authorities had slowed down or prevented registrations.
Rainsy also lashed out at the international community, which he said had done little
about these problems.
He lead the protesters to both the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and
European Union headquarters, and called on both organizations to "adopt a more
vigilant position in the ongoing election process," by refusing to finance or
"endorse a sham election".
"You should be aware of the discriminatory measures and practices at the grassroots
level that are preventing some 1.5 million citizens from registering, with effect
of depriving them of their right to vote on voting day," wrote Rainsy in a letter
to both European Commission headquarters in Brussels and to UNDP's New York office.
Im Suosdey, chairman of the NEC, could not say whether the one-month voter registration
would be extended until that time frame was complete. However he indicated that it
was unlikely. Suosdey admitted that the process had been slow, and was aware that
some registration stations were not always operating during work hours.
"Yesterday we gave one instruction to push the commune council and clerk about
discipline and the hours of the working day to push the process," he told the
Post on January 29.
Koul Panha, executive director of election monitoring NGO Comfrel, said several NGOs
including Star Kampuchea and NICFEC met on January 29. They called for the registration
period to be extended in some communes and for the NEC to be more flexible on registration
"We focus on particular communes and if 90 percent of eligible voters have not
registered we want to extent the process in those communes," he said. "We
also encourage the NEC to ease some procedures because some people lack documents
to show citizenship. If commune clerks put a lot of pressure on people to bring a
lot of documents, then people are not happy and will ignore their responsibility
The NEC also came under criticism from National Assembly President Prince Norodom
Ranariddh, who told reporters on January 27 that he had written to the election body
requiring it to ensure all citizens were given the chance to vote.
"I have received information from many different sources saying [registration
officials] have created many problems for the people who are eligible to vote. We
do not accept this," said Ranariddh. "My official letter requested the
NEC to solve this problem completely."
Ranariddh also said he would ask the NEC to extend the registration period if less
than 95 percent of eligible voters managed to register.
"The registration station has to be open for one or two more months, unless
the number reaches 95 percent," said Ranariddh. "I am concerned about the
registration process, because this is the problem of justice for society and political
justice of the nation."
Another major registration issue has surrounded the country's estimated 50,000 Buddhist
monks. According to the constitution, all Khmer citizens have the right to vote from
the age of 18. Yet the heads of the country's two main Buddhist sects have issued
a directive banning monks from getting involved in politics through voting. The SRP
and some monks have claimed that some commune officials are following this directive,
and making it difficult for monks to register.
On January 21, Chhorn Chea Yuth joined around 20 fellow monks from the Mohanikay
sect at a Phnom Penh registration station.
"We are eligible to vote, but our patriarch doesn't want us to because he is
on the side of the CPP and many monks support the Sam Rainsy Party, so this is a
political decision," Chea Yuth said. "Monks are well-educated so they have
a right to vote, they want to vote.
"This is not really democracy in Buddhism because when the patriarch bans all
the monks from voting, this is communist. Our patriarch [Tep Vong] said that if anyone
registered to vote they would be evicted from the monastery."
Another Phnom Penh-based monk, who gave his name only as Susadei, said he too was
opposed to the patriarch's ban.
"We are short of freedom. My chief of monks is communist," he said. "I
come here to register but they don't recognize for me to vote in the election. I
want to choose a good leader and a good government to make my country in the future
[one] that has freedom and no communists."
The NEC's Im Suosdey said any attempt by commune clerks to stop monks from registering
"We have already instructed our officials to give priority to monks to register
first, like pregnant women," he said.