Poll Chief Ready; Villagers Remain Mum

anlong romeat commune, Kan­dal province – Som Soeun, the chief of the com­mune election commission here, knows the election laws like a farmer knows his rice paddy.

He begins all his answers to journalists’ questions with the phrase: “Accord­ing to instructions from the NEC…”

Before he talked to reporters Sat­urday morning, though, he inspected their press credentials (as required by instructions from the NEC) through thick glasses.

“According to instructions from the NEC, if someone is missing their right hand to dip ink on their finger, then we can use the left one,” he said, when asked about the policy to mark voters’ fing­ers with ink to determine who has already cast their ballots.

“According to instructions from the NEC, if both of their hands are missing, then we just write on the list that they have already voted.”

Som Soeun, a 62-year-old re­tired civil servant, spoke in the office of the commune election commission inside Wat Anlong Romeat, one of three polling stations in this large village about 20 km south of Phnom Penh.

Everything is ready to go for to­day’s election, he said. The vot­er lists and materials have been delivered. The polling stations—two wats and one medical clinic—are prepared.

Exactly 10,448 people are registered to vote, he said, without having to check any documents. He hopes at least 90 percent can make it to the polls.

Again, quoting NEC regulations, police providing security must stand 40 meters way, no local observers from any organizations other than the three ap­proved by the NEC will be permitted inside the polling station, and no one is allowed to wear any clothes with party logos.

“No Hun Sen watches,” he said. “Not even a pencil with a party logo will be allowed.”

Voters in line before 4 pm will be able to vote but if they arrive a minute later, he will be strict. His watch, like a football referee’s, is the only official clock, he said.

A few minutes’ drive down the road, vendors said they were aware of many of the basic rules, including the time the polling stations close.

“I saw it on a banner in town,” said a 43-year-old barber.

While Som Soeun painted a rosy picture of  “free and fair” poll­ing stations, the barber and others interviewed said CPP intimidation has been rife.

“If we say we love another party, then maybe they will beat us up,” he said, alleging that CPP party leaders were telling people their choices would not be secret.

“I’m not afraid. I know the ballot is secret, but the illiterate people believe them,” he said.

His 32-year-old sister agreed. “In the countryside, it’s not safe to say who you like.”

 

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