Election Aid Still Top Priority

The country’s top election official on Wednesday said that securing foreign aid for the polls still should be Cam­bodia’s first priority. The comments came a day after it was revealed the two prime ministers have moved to­ward obtaining private funding to stage national elections.

“Without the aid, the elections cannot work,” Chheng Phon, the president of the National Election Committee, said Wednesday.

Chheng Phon said senior officials believe the government can pay for elections if foreign assistance does not materialize, but he was skeptical of such aid.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur re­ported Tuesday that the two prime ministers secretly signed a deal earlier this month with Cic­cone, an Israeli-Argen­tinean company, as an alternative way to or­ganize elections scheduled for July if substantial foreign aid re­mains absent.

The elections could cost the government up to $26 million after registering voters and candidates, and paying for technical equipment and polling stations.

Chheng Phon confirmed that the government signed the deal, which he said would likely violate aid pacts with foreign countries.

“We have not gotten [all] aid now, so we must consider other possibilities,” he said.

A senior Finance Ministry official said it was doubtful the country has money for a private poll.

“I don’t think so, it’s very hard to get $26 million,” said Under­secretary of State for Finance Chea Peng Chheang.

Im Soursdei, an Interior Min­istry official serving as secretary-general of the NEC, said he didn’t know anything about the deal.

The US, Japan and other na­tions have threatened to withhold election aid if the government does not meet certain conditions to ensure the polls are free and fair, including the participation of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The European Union has pledged $11.5 in election aid and the Japanese have committed another $3 million.

(Addi­tional reporting by Deutsche Presse-Agentur and Chris Decherd)

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