The National Election Committee (NEC) has initiated changes in the voter registration
process starting this year and in voting procedures starting next year that could
have far-reaching consequences.
- Voter cards commonly used for previous elections (1993, 1998, 2002 and 2003)
will no longer be valid.
- For the first time, potential voters (6.7 million as of 2005) are asked to check
the accuracy of their personal election-related data as stated in a document called
"Voter Information Notice" that was supposed to be personally handed to
them by their village chiefs from August 1 to 31. They must report and ask for corrections
of any possible mistakes at their commune office in a short period of time (October
1 to 20). Failure to do so may result in the loss of their voting right.
Given Cambodia's present political, economic, social and cultural conditions, the
above changes are creating confusion that is likely to produce results actually opposite
the good intentions put forward by the NEC when justifying those changes.
Up to 2003, as the sole document required on voting day, the voter card attested
your voting right and certified your identity. The sudden elimination of this document
means that you now have to assert your voting right and prove your identity through
other means, which creates hassle and confusion.
First, you must wait to receive your personal "Voter Information Notice."
Not receiving it for one reason or another, may mean you are no longer on your commune's
electoral list. To ensure that you will be allowed to vote at the next elections,
a special démarche is required at the commune office. If you do receive your
"Voter Information Notice" and are able to detect errors on it, another
démarche at the commune office is required to put things right and ensure
the preservation of your voting right. Otherwise, on voting day, election officials
with discretionary power could turn you down.
Second, with the suppression of voter cards, all citizens will be required to show
another document proving their identity before being allowed to cast their ballot.
This raises the issue of the delay in delivering a national ID card to all citizens,
without charges, before the forthcoming elections in 2007 and 2008 as promised by
the government. The delay is reportedly due to administrative harassment for non-CPP
members and corruption for the general population. Many citizens will be unable to
vote because they will fail to adequately prove their identity.
The NEC's initiative to suppress voter cards and to impose new registration and voting
procedures is allegedly intended to increase the public's awareness of, and involvement
in, the electoral process. This is being done by putting "voting registration
on the radar screen of voters," according to NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha.
In fact, the NEC is creating unnecessary and untimely work and procedures for people,
most of whom are unable to do it.
One should not forget that 80 percent of the Cambodian population live in villages
in rural areas where illiteracy rate is relatively high. Furthermore, the current
voter registration period from August to October coincides with the busiest period
of the year for farmers tending their rice fields. In the current rainy season, roads
are often impracticable and there are floods in many areas. Under such circumstances,
traveling from one's village to the commune office located in another (sometimes
far away) village to do the work required by the NEC may prove a difficult task that
many farmers will definitely not be able to perform. Therefore, the NEC's initiative
could practically end up depriving millions of citizens of their voting rights.
The victims will be mainly non-CPP members because all CPP members are identified
as such by their village chiefs and will receive in time their "Voter Information
Notice" and related information, assistance and facilities to do the work imposed
by the NEC. Most of those who do not support the ruling CPP will be left in the dark.
Everybody knows that the lines are blurred among village chiefs (99 percent of whom
are affiliated with the CPP), the CPP machinery, election authorities and the state
apparatus. Under the cover of a technical and allegedly well-intended electoral reform,
a scheme is being subtly implemented that is based on administrative harassment and
political discrimination. Many international observers do not realize that the results
of the 2007 and 2008 elections are largely being decided now through a biased registration
Sam Rainsy - Member of the National Assembly, Phnom Penh