Commune councils across the country have begun registering newly eligible voters in the tens of thousands as part of an annual 20-day registration exercise that is to conclude Monday.
But election watchdogs are questioning whether the process is a waste of time and money, given that significant electoral reforms – including a new National Election Committee law expected to overhaul voter registration – are currently being hammered out by the two main political parties.
These changes will likely see the NEC assume voter-list responsibilities from elected commune councils, meaning registration will be repeated.
According to the NEC, 105,078 new voters were registered from October 1-13 out of an estimated 312,822 youths that have turned 18 since last July’s election.
Nearly 40,000 individuals who have died or moved location have had their names deleted from the voter list so far, the NEC said.
However, Koul Panha, executive director at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that parliament should be instructing the NEC to cancel the current voter registration and review until election reforms have been passed.
Given that voter registration was being “conducted within the existing system”, the quality of the list cannot be guaranteed despite valuable state resources being spent, he said.
The US-funded National Democratic Institute – which has argued, as part of umbrella group the Electoral Reform Alliance, that registration should be suspended – has long identified problems with the current registration procedure.
“NDI has for many years now advocated for the duties of voter registration to be handed over to a new, independent election management body instead of being carried out by the elected, partisan commune councils, given the inherent conflict of interest,” senior director Laura Thornton said.
But NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha argued that until the laws were changed, the NEC would continue its duties in alignment with currently mandated procedure.
“I am not sure about the new laws. But we are technicians and we work according to the existing laws,” he said.