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Sparring as PM announces date for national elections

A man has his thumbprint scanned during a voter registration trial in Phnom Penh last year.
A man has his thumbprint scanned during a voter registration trial in Phnom Penh last year. Hong Menea

Sparring as PM announces date for national elections

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday revealed a late July date for the 2018 national election while urging authorities to speed up the process of registering more than 2 million people still lacking an ID card ahead of next year’s commune elections.

Hun Sen told 2,000 graduates at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh the national poll would take place on July 22, 2018. He also demanded that the new, electronic voter lists be transparent, lest his opposition opponents be given a reason to reject the election results.

Referring to 2013’s contested election, the prime minister said the problem of about 1.5 million names missing from the voting register had only partially been resolved in the three years since, with just 200,000 of those now on the rolls.

“All actors can start preparing and hope there is no reason to reject the result of the election and no reason to accuse us of losing millions of names from voter lists … We all have to ensure transparency and guarantee a procedure of democracy,” he said. But opposition leader Sam Rainsy has already begun to question the credibility of the freshly announced elections.

In a statement last night, Rainsy said the announcement was a diversion “from what the Hun Sen government has been actively doing over the last 12 months in order to manipulate those elections in a way to secure victory for the ruling CPP”.

He said Hun Sen was “jeopardising the whole election process” by using the judicial system to quash critics and unbalance the National Election Committee (NEC), having imprisoned the body’s deputy secretary Ny Chakrya and preparing to prosecute opposition appointee Rong Chhun.

“The current political repression – and with it the climate of fear and intimidation – must first be put to an end before anybody can talk about free and fair elections.”

NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea yesterday confirmed the body is due to receive 2,400 computers, along with equipment for fingerprint scans, cameras and power banks, by July 15 this year from the EU.

That means registration for the commune elections could begin on September 1, after programs have been installed on each computer and 7,000 staff hired and trained, he said.

Kim Chhorn, senior program coordinator at election watchdog Comfrel, yesterday expressed concerns about the timing of the registration period. “My concern is the voter registration could take a long time – it could take up to five and a half months,” he said.

“It could be very difficult for the NEC to manage if the time between the registration period and election day is constrained.” But he added that the new electronic registration system – funded by Japan and the EU – would eliminate “ghost voters” or a doubling up of names.

Additional reporting by Bun Sengkong and Erin Handley

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