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PM Puts Comfrel on Notice

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday threatened legal action against anyone who touted claims of irregularities in the voter lists during the 2013 election, telling reporters yesterday that if this year’s round of voter registration finishes and the final tally of voters compiled is similar to the figures in 2013, those who made claims that millions of people were left off voter rolls deserve to be charged with crimes for “steering the nation to disaster.”
He also criticized those who claimed thousands of ruling party supporters voted more than once by washing off the black thumbprint ink – used to signify someone had already voted – in less than 12 hours, again saying that those who made the assertion deserved to be charged with crimes.
He did not specify what crimes or charges would be levied against those who made the allegations.
Recently back from Singapore for a health check-up, the premier and his wife went straight to register to vote in Kandal province’s Takmao commune on the first day of the new voter list registration process, which was facilitated by experts from Japan and the EU.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Hun Sen spoke of the political resolution after the 2013 elections, saying he had proposed electoral reform and new voter lists while the opposition party only requested changing the composition of the National Election Committee (NEC).
He added that according to the new law, established by the new NEC, if any party declined to swear in or boycott parliament, the party would lose seats automatically.
Satisfied with the new voter registration process, the prime minister also expressed hope that the names of 1.2 million people suspected of being lost in the 2013 election would be found, saying he would take action against those who caused any issues because of it.
“I hope in the future, we will find those 1.2 million names that were allegedly missing. When the registration ends, we will see whether those 1.2 million people are on the list. If not still missing, those who caused this issue will be held responsible. Those missing voters are not chickens or sparrows, they are a lot of people,” he said.
As for accusations that the indelible black ink used in the voting process was removable, he said the issue would be revisited if it was found those people were intentionally causing chaos.
“Those who claimed that black ink can be removed in less than 12 hours, but actually, the black ink was used by people [as normal]. They bought up this issue, and we will revisit it in the future,” the premier said.
Only a day before the fifth national elections in 2013, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) announced that the black ink used by the NEC in the voting process was not reliable.
Comfrel found the ink could be completely removed in three hours, causing concern it could provide opportunities for people to vote multiple times.
After the 2013 elections, the opposition party and some organizations monitoring the election process said the old voting lists contained mistakes such as missing voter names and double names, which they claimed caused inaccuracies in election results and asked for the configuration of the NEC to be changed as well.
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) spokesman Yim Sovann said political parties should consider the nation’s issues and address the challenges to citizens, not bring up old matters.
“We should not recall those memories. There are many national problems including corruption, social injustice, health and education which need to be resolved. Do not waste time on an old problem,” he said.
Comfrel executive director Koul Panha expressed confidence in the new voter lists utilizing technology and said a review of the indelible black ink’s quality was important in the 2013 elections because there were so many registration errors, but added the issue would not matter in the new system.
“I believe the new registration system will be able to prevent the problem of voter fraud, so the black ink is not a problem anymore,” he said.
On the first day of new voter registration yesterday, Sik Bun Hok, chairman of the NEC, and the other eight NEC members separately registered to vote depending on where they live.
Mr. Bun Hok said the NEC observed that many residents registered to vote, making the process a bit slow, while in some provinces, problems occurred related to the internet service and the speed at which they could send data to the NEC.
Adachi Itsu, chief representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, said even though the legal framework and social status of Cambodia was different from Japan, he believed the process of voter registration via technology would be transparent and acceptable.
“In fact, the voter registration process is not a political process. This is completely technical work that requires citizens to follow orders and election procedures,” he said.
Fiona Ramsey, head of the EU cooperation body, said experts from the EU and Japan would work closely with NEC experts in case any problems arose.
“We review only the technical aspects in voter registration. What’s important is that we want to know the process, the process how citizens can register or whether they could register or find their name. Actually, all Cambodians must come to register to vote to use their rights in the election of their representatives,” she said.
Voter registration runs until November 29 for commune elections in June 2017 and for the national election in 2018. The NEC has employed more than 7,000 people to help with registration and the Interior Ministry has also employed thousands of security forces at registration offices throughout the country.

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