The National Election Committee’s spokesman yesterday pronounced the first day of voter registration a success but noted several issues, including technical problems and inexperienced computer operators, made registration “slow” at several sites.
As of yesterday afternoon, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said, some 50,000 people had logged their names in the new digital voter list system, designed to combat election fraud.
The NEC hopes to register the Kingdom’s 9.6 million eligible voters over the next three months, ahead of the 2017 commune elections.
Efforts to set up the process have been beset by delays and squeezed by time – with the NEC hiring staff as late as last week and training many in recent days, leading to concerns about quality.
However, speaking yesterday evening, Puthea declared it had been mostly “smooth”, aside from a few problems.
These included malfunctions with more than 10 of the 2,400 computers acquired to enroll voters, difficulty with sending data via the internet in some communes and a lack of skills among some recently trained computer operators.
Puthea would not give the precise location of the faults, but maintained all have been solved.
As for the lack of skills, Puthea said that computer operators would improve as they gained experience.
“From tomorrow . . . we can say that the speed will be faster,” he said, adding no complaints had yet been received. “In general, the operation is smooth.”
To kick off the day, representatives of the European Union and Japan joined with NEC members at the registration centre in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Keng Kang III commune.
The donors have led international assistance with election efforts, with the EU stumping up €10 million ($11 million) and Tokyo providing technical support.
The EU’s head of cooperation, Fiona Ramsey, said the morning’s performance was “very encouraging” and pledged to continue working closely with the body, which was given a more bipartisan makeup after reforms last year.
Chief representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Cambodia Itsu Adachi said it was important the registration drive be seen as “accountable and acceptable”, noting registration was not a “political”, but rather technical and administrative, process.
NEC President Sik Bun Hok – a former Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker appointed to the body by the ruling party – called the new system an achievement of both the CPP and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
His deputy, Kouy Bunroeung, formerly of the CNRP, said the NEC would “keep its eyes” on the process in a bid to prevent problems from developing.
Also keeping their eyes on the process yesterday were the thousands of observers hired by the CPP and CNRP to man stations in the country’s 1,633 communes.
At Phnom Penh’s Phsar Doeum Thkov commune – which registered 94 people in the morning, according to deputy commune chief Tem Sophey – opposition observer Noul Nay, a 44-year-old tuk-tuk driver, said he was cross-checking citizens’ identity cards with their details logged on the screen to spot errors.
“There’s been no wrong in-formation so far,” said Nay, who also explained he was on the lookout for Vietnamese names to identify suspected illegal voters. “If I see one, I will note it down and we will lodge a complaint with the NEC.”
Known for its anti-Vietnamese rhetoric, the CNRP has said it plans to have its observers monitor for illegal voters, a plan that drew criticism amid concerns of race baiting, of which the party has been accused in the past. Vietnamese voters have also experienced trouble at the polls in previous elections, with reports of some being chased away from polling stations in 2013.
Over at Daun Penh district’s Phsar Kandal II commune, Horn Heng, another CNRP observer, said he was looking for people who did not speak Khmer, whether they be “Vietnamese, Chinese or others”.
His CPP counterpart Noun Vanda said the site had welcomed 37 women and 27 men during the morning session.
“This morning there were many people; it took about seven to eight minutes to register them excluding a wait time of about five minutes,” he said, before placing another mark in a small book as a voter walked past.
Nearby, clutching his Cambodian identity card and a receipt certifying he had registered, Kouch Heng, 37, said he found the process “acceptable”, though suggested another computer could make it even faster.
Asked why he arrived on day one, the grocer said: “I was excited . . . I want to be a good citizen, plus I didn’t have much time, I have to pick up my kids soon.”
Reached yesterday evening, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party had been unable to deploy observers in about 40 communes, after their credentials failed to arrive.
He also complained of slow computer operators, causing delays of 20 to 25 minutes, and said many people remained unaware of the current drive and the need to register, but noted that the party had yet to receive any reports of irregularities.
Though crowds fluctuated from site to site, perhaps one of the biggest influxes came at the office in Takhmao when Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived to register yesterday afternoon.
Speaking at the Takhmao Commune Hall afterwards, the premier appeared to already be thinking beyond the 2018 national ballot, warning the CNRP that the new election law would not allow them to repeat their post-election boycott in 2013, when they disputed the result.
He said he hoped the new “modern” system would help to find the 1.2 million missing voters – a reference to irregularities cited by the opposition in 2013 – while also telling citizens: “If you want to use your right [to vote], you must come and register.”
Back at Phsar Doeum Thkov commune – where a brief power outage gave staff just enough time to haul out a generator before the electricity returned – retired Health Ministry worker Peng Ngeth, 64, spoke with the Post after spending 10 minutes registering.
He noted it was “smoother” compared to his previous experiences with registration.
“Now it’s done with computers; it’s much easier,” he said.