A senior Foreign Ministry official on Monday said Cambodia’s controversial handling of Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam more than a decade ago gave the government the necessary credentials to resettle refugees it will soon take off Australia’s hands as part of a deal signed Friday.
Just two months after the contested national election, commune officials across the country on Tuesday began the annual 20-day process of registering voters, while the National Election Committee (NEC) announced that 270,000 duplicated names would be removed from the voter list used in July.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said an estimated 337,000 people would have turned 18 since the July 28 election, meaning that they are now eligible to register to vote, even though the next time the public votes will not be until the 2017 commune council elections.
According to the NEC’s computerized 2012 voter list, there were 270,000 duplicated names on the list that need to be removed, Mr. Nytha said by telephone. Supporting that figure, commune officials who hand-checked the voter lists found that more than 130,000 names were duplicated or belonged to people who had died or moved residence, Mr. Nytha said.
“We think that the duplicated names reported by commune authorities overlapped with names on the NEC’s computerized data,” he said.
“They will be removed from the voter list,” he said of the 270,000 duplicated names. “Of the 130,000, the names of people who died or moved location will also be removed.”
“The duplicated names happened because the commune clerks just register voters by hand, not using computers,” Mr. Nytha maintained.
On the day of the July election, scores of voters interviewed at polling stations said they had encountered problems when they tried to vote. Many said they found their names crossed out because someone else had voted using their identity.
In a written statement Tuesday, the opposition CNRP demanded that the voter registration process undergo massive reforms and that the process be delayed.
“The CNRP demands to postpone or delay the voter list registration and examination that the NEC set up for October 1 to 20, because it is the rainy season and people are suffering from floods,” the opposition said.
In the lead-up to the July election, both the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) and the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) estimated that up to 1 million voters would be disenfranchised because of problems associated with the NEC compiling the voter list.
Defending the election, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An on Monday told the Council of Ministers that both Comfrel and NDI had “exaggerated the number of voters” who would not be able to vote.
“When the NEC demanded proof of the lost voters, the opposition party and the two NGOs refused to cooperate to provide the voter lists with who they said would lose their names,” Mr. An said.
NDI country director Laura Thornton said Tuesday that everything the NDI predicted would happen on election day happened, and that they could not disclose names given in confidentiality for their survey.
Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said the quality of the voter list would continue to suffer if the system to compile it stays the same.
“The current system is unable to guarantee the quality of the voter list,” he said. “The current system is static. They cannot modify the current system because it’s already in the law and NEC has not made any recommendations to change that system.”
The NEC “has the power to suggest changes in the law”—something it consistently refers to being bound by—but chooses not to do so, Mr. Panha said.
“The NEC is a passive energy. They don’t really work hard to improve the [election] system and they pretend to themselves that they only use the operational system of the law,” he said.
“They don’t put it to the decision makers to amend or modify or change the system—our NEC is not like that.”
But, as if to prove Mr. Panha’s point, Mr. Nytha said Tuesday that the NEC has no right to petition lawmakers or suggest amendments to the existing election law.
“We are just in the position to implement the laws,” he said.
Enthusiasm to register to vote was not evident in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov II commune on Tuesday due to a combination of flooding and the fact that next year is not an election year, commune chief Yin Vuth said.
Interest was also low in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet commune, said commune chief Kong Sok.
“Although we used loudspeakers disseminating information about voter registration and revision, most of the villagers do not care much,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers, Mech Dara and Kim Chan)
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