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Voter turnout keeps falling

A first-time voter casts his ballot at a polling station in Phnom Penh on Sunday.
A first-time voter casts his ballot at a polling station in Phnom Penh on Sunday. HONG MENEA

Voter turnout keeps falling

Since the 1998 National Assembly election, when 93 per cent of registered voters cast ballots, voter participation in the Kingdom has dropped precipitously election to election. That trend continued unabated Sunday as only an estimated 68 per cent inked their fingers.

But some analysts attributed this year’s low turnout – which dipped about seven per cent from 2008 – to an increase in the number of obstacles thrown at would-be voters rather than a decrease in political interest.

Election watchdogs Comfrel and Transparency International both reported widespread complaints from registered voters turned away from polling stations for not having proper ID or not appearing on the polling station’s voter list.

“Nothing else explains to me why there should be [a lower] voter turnout this election,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “It’s not that people didn’t want to vote.”

Comfrel and TI were in basic agreement with the National Election Committee for voter turnout numbers. Comfrel’s data showed 68 per cent of Cambodia’s 9.6 million registered voters participating, while the latter two reported about 69 per cent.

The CPP found its majority in the National Assembly bruised after the ruling party lost 22 seats in the ballot, leaving it with 68 of the 123 seats.

But if election officials had not disenfranchised a high volume of people attempting to vote, the CPP’s majority may have been further damaged, Virak said.

“In 2008, it definitely wouldn’t change the results,” Virak said. “In this election, would they change election results? I would say yes.”

Problems with the NEC’s voter list seemed to play the largest role in the drop in active voters this year, Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said. But the NGO will collect data from its election observers and complete a full report at a later date, he said.

Although the percentage of voters has diminished since 2008, the number of people who voted increased by about 600,000, NEC secretary general Tep Nytha said.

But the numbers on the voter list may be a deceiving method of judging the number of registered voters.

“There might be, in fact, far fewer real registered voters than actually are on the list,” Virak said.

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