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Gov’t Pushes Census to 2019

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife registering to vote. KT/Mai Vireak

The 2018 national population census will be pushed back a year in order to focus on the 2018 national elections, the government announced on Friday.
According to article 6 of the Statistics Law, the census must be conducted at least once every 10 years, with the dates set by sub-decree. It makes no allowance for a postponement of census collection.
“I have decided not to do it by 2018. We cannot due to having too many things to handle, including budgets and we have the coming elections,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen following a meeting with his cabinet.
He stated that if the law needed to be amended to accommodate this change, then that would be arranged.
Mr. Hun Sen added that the budget was the biggest issue, as having to cover any costs for the census, much less the millions they would spend if they did conduct it, was prohibitive during a costlier-than-usual election cycle.
“Originally, we planned $12 million for the work of the census, but after a negotiation deal they lowered it to $8 million. Even if we have to spend $1 million we will not do it.”
Hang Lina, director-general of the National Institute of Statistics, told Khmer Times yesterday that the delay would not have any negative  effects on the availability of reliable data, as the ministry also conducts a half-decade census in addition to an annual preliminary survey.
“Initially, we planned to use modern technology with scanners to enter the date, which would have cost up to $12 million, but because we do not have partners we cooperated with the Ministry of Finance and decided to use the government fund of $8 million and to enter the data by computers instead,” Ms. Lina said.
In July, the representative for the UN Populations Fund, Derveeuw Marc GL, wrote in an article for the Phnom Penh Post that said 25 percent of the census costs would be met by the Cambodian government from the national budget.
Conducted in 2013, the half-decade census showed over 14.6 million people living in Cambodia, an increase of 8.7 percent from the 2008 census. Ms. Lina said that the current population was estimated at about 15 million people.
Census collection was restarted in 1998, 36 years after the previous one had been taken. Civil war and large-scale disruption had meant that there was little accurate data available on Cambodia’s population. The UN-funded operation cost $6.8 million.
Census data provides an accurate understanding of the nation’s population and how it is dispersed. The data is central to government planning for all services, from health to infrastructure development, and is used by the UN and development agencies to accurately plan and target their work.
While the current registration drive for next year’s commune elections has seen 3,294,505 people register to vote, according to a National Election Committee (NEC) statement yesterday, it has not all gone smoothly.
Last week, the NEC announced it was investigating claims from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that soldiers, military police and police were registering to vote in areas other than their home villages or places of work. The letter, sent to NEC president Sik Bun Hok by acting CNRP president Kem Sokha, called the allegations a serious breach of election law and procedure, and said it was threatening to other voters.
The CNRP has also claimed that numerous people have been allowed to register despite lacking correct documentation proving they are Cambodian citizens.
NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea told Khmer Times that after 20 days of voter registration, the NEC had received about 20 complaints, ranging from claims of obstruction from registering to suspicious registrations.
“The NEC has not concluded anything yet because we need time to investigate and I hope the results will be ready next week….Our officials went down to Preah Vihear, Battambang and Siem Reap provinces to look into these matters now,” Mr. Puthea said.
In August, National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun said that the military would be stationed at voting locations if there was insufficient police available to “maintain public order.”  
During Friday’s cabinet meeting, the prime minister stated that so far, countries had only contributed small amounts to helping Cambodia meet the predicted $16 million cost for the upcoming elections. Japan has provided $1.1 million, and the EU has promised more than $7 million, including material supplies, but Mr. Hun Sen complained that this still meant the government would have to foot a large portion of the cost.

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