Voters who can’t be found, deletions of names from lists and a decline in the accuracy of registry data are just a few of the many areas of concern that two nonprofits brought to the attention of the National Election Committee (NEC) in a statistically scathing report released yesterday.
Data collection for the massive 2013 Cambodia Voter Registry Audit – which the government is already calling into question – involved more than 450 observers.
Beginning in February, they tracked the accuracy of the government’s voter list in a so-called two-way test: cross-referencing both the names on the list with the actual people, and conducting the process in reverse with different respondents.
Led by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Cambodia’s Center for Advanced Study, and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), interviewers reached a broad sampling of about 5,000 eligible and registered voters spread out across 24 provinces.
The results will prove disconcerting for believers in the fairness of the electoral process, and stir doubt in optimists who believe improvements have been made since the last national elections five years ago.
“I think the whole point is that the quality of the voter’s list has declined, in every single measure by which you measure a voting list,” said Laura Thornton, senior director of the NDI.
“This is important to us, because it’s in direct confrontation to what the NEC and the government is saying about the voter list, that it’s never been better, that registration has never been higher. There is this narrative that things have gotten better, and yet, the data is showing that, actually, it’s worse.”
The troubling statistics presented in the report, which used the most recently available information from 2012, cover a host of topics.
There is the dip in registration, from about 88 per cent in 2008 to 83 per cent today. There is the 10.4 per cent of voters whom the interviewers could not even locate or account for but whose names were registered, and the 9.4 per cent of eligible voters who found themselves deleted from the list. Last but not least, there is the 10.8 per cent who think, mistakenly, that they are registered.
Looking at the problem broadly, Thornton said the first issue is enfranchisement, and “the other point of the findings is, what’s going on with the names on the list.”
Koul Panha, head of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said his organisation, which did not take part in the audit, has found similarly worrisome problems in past studies.
The report yesterday made several suggestions going forward, including allowing independent monitors to observe polling stations to look out for verification problems that may arise on election day.
None of this sat well with NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha, who yesterday called the audit “suspect”. He demanded that the NDI provide the names of those it interviewed to check the accuracy of its findings.
“NEC is requesting NDI to give the names for three cases. First, those who have rights to vote and were deleted from voter list; second, those who were already registered but did not have a name in the voter list; and third, those who used to vote in 2008 and 2012, and now can’t find their names on the voter list,” Nytha said. “Now we ask them to give those names so that we can be sure about this audit.”
The release of the report came mere months before the national elections in July. On the same day, Prime Minister Hun Sen put in a plug for his own candidacy and the Cambodian People’s Party in the elections on July 28. Speaking in Kompong Thom province’s Santuk district in a pagoda inauguration ceremony, Hun Sen asked Cambodians to support him for another term.
“Now it is my turn to depend on you. There is nothing difficult. Just tick [the ballot] if you love Hun Sen, if you pity Hun Sen, if you are satisfied with Hun Sen, if you believe in Hun Sen. Please vote for the CPP.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY TITTHARA