Representatives from six political parties discussed their concerns with the first
stage of the election process, as the country heads into an election year. That first
stage - registration of voters - starts on January 17 and lasts for one month. Election
day itself is provisionally set for July 27, 2003.
The December 19 meeting of the group called Conflict Prevention in the Cambodian
Elections (Copcel) was closed to the media, but an attendee, who requested anonymity,
said the idea behind it was to improve the culture of dialogue to reduce election-related
"Conflict can be reduced when we give space to politicians to express their
concerns," he said. "Copcel is a high-level discussion involving political
parties, civil society, donors and government authorities."
He told the Post that some party members had said they were worried an estimated
two million voters, who are believed eligible to vote but are not yet on the voters'
roll, would be unable to do so in the four week timeframe.
Other election observers have expressed their fears that the powers given to the
commune clerks could be abused. The revisions to the election law transferred the
process of registering voters to the commune council clerks.
Most eligible voters will not need to register - the voter roll used in the February
2002 commune elections will simply be updated. But those who want to get on the roll,
for instance because they have turned 18 since the local elections, will need to
do so through the commune clerk in their commune.
Concerns were raised before the commune elections that the clerks, who are appointed
by the Ministry of Interior and report to it, were not sufficiently independent.
The amended election law does go some way to countering that by requiring each commune
council to appoint at least one council member to oversee the clerk's work during
the registration process.
But with the ruling Cambodian People's Party holding the commune chief position in
virtually all 1,621 communes, there are still fears that the process will not be
Hang Puthea, the executive director of election monitor NICFEC, said both his organization
and Comfrel, another election monitoring NGO, were taking steps to ensure the registration
process went smoothly and clerks followed election regulations.
The two NGOs will send 7,000 observers to voter registration stations, he said, and
NICFEC had distributed one million leaflets informing people about the registration
process, with most handed out in rural areas.
"At the moment we cannot comment on the [actual] neutrality or independence
of the commune clerks," he said. "But we will follow them carefully. They
need to ensure their work is independent, neutral, and not in the interests of one
or other particular party."
Puthea said more than one mil-lion people had not registered for the February 2002
commune elections, either because of a lack of information, for fear of political
violence, or simply through free choice. A total 6.8 million citizens were registered
to vote in 1998.
Independence was also on the mind of Funcinpec's Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who called
on December 17 for the voter registration period to be extended if the final list
contains less than 95 percent of eligible voters. He also asked the National Election
Committee to "increase the number of people watching over the commune clerks."