The opposition CNRP has agreed to take its 55 seats in the National Assembly in exchange for an overhaul of the electoral commission that it accuses of rigging last year’s national election in favor of the ruling CPP, according a joint statement issued by the parties after talks on Tuesday.
An estimated 1.25 million eligible voters may lose their right to take part in the July national elections because of errors made by the National Election Committee (NEC) during the voter list registration and amendment process, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said Monday.
Comfrel researchers who carried out an audit of the election registration process and final voter list also found that the NEC had managed to register about 300,000 more names than were actually eligible to vote.
“Comfrel found that 13.5 percent of registered voters had no data recorded on the 2012 voter list for 2013 election (their names could not be found or their names/data had been changed entirely),” Comfrel said in a detailed 58-page report.
“This means that some 1.25 million registered voters are likely to lose their right to vote in the 2013 upcoming election.”
In an accompanying summary of the report, Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said the discovery of massive errors in the voter list leaves him “seriously concerned” about the national elections.
“The NEC should take responsibility for this by facilitating discussions to find a better solution and restore credibility of elections,” Mr. Panha said.
The pre-election warning is reminiscent of another made last year by Comfrel, which found that the rights of 1.5 million voters would be affected in the June 6 commune elections because of errors made in registering voters.
Comfrel said the voter registration process showed “little improvement” from the 2007 and 2008 voter lists, but the fact that registered, eligible voters’ names were struck from the current voter list ahead of the election in July is worrying.
“The incorrect deletion of voters’ names is unusual, as those voters currently live in their own communes and had registered their names in their communes. Despite this, their names were deleted from the 2012 voter list for the 2013 national election. Furthermore, the NEC deleted 468,485 voter names (approximately 5 percent of registered voters) from the voter list during 2012 voter registration and revision,” the Comfrel report states.
Comfrel also pegged the number of people who were newly eligible to register to vote—which in October’s registration drive mostly applied to those who had turned 18 since the September 2011 registration process—at 619,630. The NEC’s final number, however, was 916,757, which further indicates that there is a risk of voter fraud, Comfrel said.
“Hence, the NEC’s prediction on…voter registration is always erroneous,” Comfrel said.
This year’s official voter list contains 9.6 million names.
Two weeks ago, the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) released the findings of its own audit of the voter list and said that 1 in 10 people registered to vote in the July election do not exist, while the names of 9 percent of people—who were actual voters—had been unfairly removed from the voter list.
Reached by telephone, NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said he had received the Comfrel report, though he had yet to read it.
Still, Mr. Nytha automatically dismissed, as he did with the NDI report, the finding that huge numbers of voters had been lost from the voter list. He also said that Comfrel’s report would have no effect on election day.
“I cannot accept that 1.25 million people would lose their right to vote for the national elections of July 28; it is not true, and I don’t know how Comfrel calculated it,” he said.
“We know that the voter list is not perfect, and we aim to correct it next time.”
Calls to reform the NEC, which is seen by critics as an institution stacked with loyalists of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, have long been ignored by the government.
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)
© 2013, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.