Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Opposition unhappy with registration at half-way mark

Opposition unhappy with registration at half-way mark

Opposition unhappy with registration at half-way mark

election.jpg
election.jpg

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

requirements.

"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

to register."

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

was illegal.

"We have already instructed our officials to give priority to monks to register

first, like pregnant women," he said.

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