CCMBODIA'S elections were hours away from being postponed for technical reasons just
a few days ago, on Wednesday July 22.
Only quick action by National Election Committee (NEC) technical staff and a last
minute charter flight from Bangkok ensured the delivery of the indelible ink, which
will be used to mark voters' fingers to prevent them from trying to cast more than
The 3 tons of ink had been stranded in Delhi, India, and needed to be transhipped
through Bangkok where it was picked up by a charter flight bound for Phnom Penh.
It was not clear what caused the shipping delay, though one source said that there
had been an attempt to hide the waybills - a charge that was denied by the NEC.
Another source said Thai Airways failed to reserve sufficient space on the Delhi-Bangkok
The absolute deadline for receiving the ink was the morning of July 22. If it had
been any longer, one NEC official said the election would be delayed by up to a week.
NEC technical adviser Bruce Hatch, who has been involved in elections around the
world, was in fine spirits when he saw that the last big technical hitch to Election
'98 disappear. "It doesn't matter where you are or how much preparation you
put in, it always comes down to the wire," he said.
Polling day and vote counting are now expected to proceed as scheduled, a lengthy
and complex process that begins at 6am on July 26 with the arrival of the polling
station committees (PSCs) at approximately 12,000 polling stations around the country.
It will all end with the allocation of National Assembly seats about one month later.
PSC staff will verify their identities with election observers and party representatives
before padlocking and sealing their sole ballot box in front of everyone, according
to the official election schedule.
Ballot serial numbers are then recorded, and at 7am sharp, balloting should begin.
Polling staff are instructed to vote first, followed by the agents and Cambodian
observers that are registered at the station.
Polling is scheduled to end at 4pm, with no lunch break. But if a station happens
to open late, it must also close late to give all voters an equal opportunity to
cast ballots, an election technician explained.
Then comes the first step in a series of sealing, storing, transporting and counting
of the ballots that has been planned to ward off any attempts at fraud.
The ballot box is sealed and placed in a large blue waterproof bag, which is itself
A PSC statement that includes the number of ballots used and the serial numbers of
all the seals is then attached to the bag and separately sealed.
"There's a lot of security measures," one technician said confidently.
"Ten times more than in most countries."
Ballot boxes that can be transported to a Commune Election Commission (CEC) before
dark will be moved on July 26, but most will spend the night at the polling station.
Some international observers have already spoken of plans to "sleep with the
The morning of Monday, July 27 begins with a complicated process termed "the
reconciliation of the ballots" by the CECs.
The sealed PSC statement is opened along with the ballot boxes to determine if the
number of ballots, and spoiled ballots, inside equals the number used.
If there are too few ballots it is no big deal, according to an election worker.
"In 1993 when we were attacked by the Khmer Rouge we lost about 15 or 20 ballots,"
he said. "People just ran for their lives. They weren't worried about getting
a piece of paper into the ballot box."
But even one too many ballots could be a big problem. One fake ballot in a box could
indicate that 'telegraphing' occurred - where one blank ballot is smuggled out and
marked by a party activist. The ballot is then given to a voter who must deposit
the pre-marked ballot in the ballot box and return from the station with another
blank ballot to begin a chain of controlled voting.
The box and accompanying materials will be repackaged and sent to the Provincial
Election Commission (PEC) for inspection if there's any discrepancy.
If, in such a case, it is determined that the results in the ballot box will affect
the final allocation of seats for that province, a recommendation must immediately
be made to the NEC to cancel the ballots, the technician said.
But assuming all of a CEC's ballot boxes check out, counting begins. The final total
will be radioed to the PEC, added to other preliminary CEC results there, then radioed
to the NEC in Phnom Penh.
At the NEC public information center in the Interior Ministry compound, grand plans
have been made to publicize the unofficial results as soon as possible. A large-screen
television is to be rented to display up-to-date results and there is also a plan
to immediately post the vote tallies on the NEC's website.
"On the evening of the first day we will have enough to know what the trend
for the results will be," said the technician. "In 1993, the results were
about the same the whole way through."
But the technician warned that the radioed unofficial results are just that - unofficial.
"They are just for curiosity," he said.
By Aug 1, all the preliminary results are expected to be totaled. During the counting
process, the ballots from the PECs will be repackaged and sealed for transport to
the NEC for verification.
Official results are expected to be announced in mid-to-late August. If any party
challenges the results, a complaint process is set in motion that will likely see
an appeal reach the Constitutional Council.
If a complaint is successful, the council can order a re-vote in the affected area,
which could further delay the announcement of the official results. But once the
result is deemed official, the allocation of Assembly seats is expected to begin
the next day.