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Public hearings on rolls go dark

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NEC member Mean Sathi (centre) speaks at a press conference on the resolution of complaints regarding the new voter list yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Public hearings on rolls go dark

The National Election Committee yesterday announced it would cease public hearings over voter roll complaints and move proceedings behind closed doors in a bid to complete the task faster.

The news came as a disappointment to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and fair election monitors, who have criticised the hasty decisions and lack of transparency thus far.

Mean Sathi, an NEC member representing the Cambodia People’s Party, yesterday told the press the decision had been made due to the sheer number of complaints.

“The NEC has changed the mechanism since the time is short and there are many complaints,” Sathi said.

He said over the course of three days of public hearings, the opposition plaintiffs appeared not to have clear evidence for claiming thousands of voters were Vietnamese or other foreigners.

“We have confirmed that [the CNRP] filed this complaint about whether the identity card is issued by the Ministry of Interior or not; [the plaintiff] accepted that identity cards are issued by the Ministry of Interior, but he suspected that some were wrongly issued,” Sathi said.

The NEC has said investigating whether those cards were issued legitimately was outside their purview, and cross-checking with the Ministry of Interior database would constitute an unreasonably lengthy endeavour.

“They cannot just look in the computer and make a decision to erase. They have to go to the local level to investigate, since the withdrawal of the right of each person is not a normal thing,” Sathi said.

But CNRP attorney Herm Socheat said a swifter process would not give ample time to consider each case.

“Under the previous prosecution, when there are questions from the NEC, [they] rejected all the complaints; if they create this new procedure which is silent, without any questioning, I do not know what to say about this,” Socheat said.

An additional 200 names were kept on the list on Wednesday, bringing the tally of decided-upon names up to about 800. To date, the panel has not removed a single person from the voter rolls.

Sathi said the NEC had thus far received 1,992 complaints – though the CNRP claims it has lodged almost 5,000 – and despite the January 14 deadline, would keep channels open for complaints until they were all resolved on January 27.

For those who are unsatisfied with the ruling on those complaints, an appeal can be lodged within five days of the decision.

Though the NEC has previously stated it would release the final electoral roll on February 12, spokesman Hang Puthea yesterday was vague about the date, suggesting the list may not be released until right before the commune elections on June 4.

Earlier this week, Sam Kutheamy, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia, criticised the lack of time already being given to complaints, saying each was only afforded 10 to 20 minutes.

Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel, yesterday said the hearings should remain open to public scrutiny for the sake of NEC’s transparency.

“When the NEC does not do this in the public eye, it will impact transparency,” he said.

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