Voter Registration System a Stride Toward Democracy: UN Envoy

The U.N. envoy to Cambodia on Thursday lauded the development of the country’s electronic voter registration system ahead of recent commune elections as a step toward “more fair and transparent elections.”

Following a closed-door meeting with National Election Committee President Sik Bunhok at the Interior Ministry, Rhona Smith said she hoped continued progress would be seen ahead of next year’s general election.

The UN’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, Rhona Smith, enters the Interior Ministry on Thursday for a meeting with the National Election Committee. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The election commission “achieved a greater level of credibility in terms of voter registration” by creating the electronic system, which will hopefully “continue in future elections,” she said.

“My hope is they will continue to apply the law—and they will continue to improve and review the election process—in order to completely update to more fair and more transparent elections, as they have been doing,” she added.

The previous voter registration—done by hand—was a key point of contention following the 2013 general election, sparking massive protests when the CNRP claimed the party had taken a slim loss due to voter fraud. It was reformed last year in anticipation of the June commune elections.

According to the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, an estimated 1.25 million voters were disenfranchised by the system in 2013 due to irregularities in the voter list. The body praised the new system’s accuracy after auditing a fresh list in April. The two officials also discussed the potential for an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians living overseas to vote from outside the country, a proposal the CNRP has put before the National Assembly, she said. Mr. Bunhok dismissed the idea as “not possible,” she said.

Looking forward, Ms. Smith said her “main concern is that the elections will be conducted in a fair and transparent manner and that they will be deemed credible and in accordance with the law and be nationally and internationally recognized.”

But there is a long way to go before Cambodian elections can be considered fair, according to political analyst Long Mao Hay. The government should approve the proposed law on overseas votes to avoid “a massive violation of human rights affecting over a million voices,” he said. Additionally, caps should be set on party campaign spending and the ruling party’s monopoly over television and radio broadcasting should be ended.

“The ruling party has…been campaigning every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. How about the other parties?” he asked. “In terms of technicality, we feel that the NEC has been doing reasonably well, but that…is a logistic only.”

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