The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced Thursday that it will provide Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) with a grant of U.S. $1.8 million to support the electoral body’s work during upcoming commune and general elections in 2017 and 2018.
The two-year grant will be used to launch voter education campaigns, strengthen the election dispute resolution process and improve the NEC’s ability to shore up weaknesses in the country’s electoral system, the agency said in a statement.
U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt called electoral participation “the foundation of a healthy democracy.”
“We look forward to working with the National Election Committee, civil society, and political parties to continue to strengthen democracy in Cambodia,” he said.
USAID previously assisted the NEC with internal training for its election staff and producing public service announcements for voter registration.
Responding to the announcement, NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea thanked USAID for the grant, which he said added to U.S. $7.1 million his agency had received from the European Union for the upcoming polls, as well as U.S. $1.2 million from Japan and U.S. $12 million from China.
The NEC expects that around U.S. $52 million will be needed to fund the election process, he added.
Voter lists accurate
The USAID announcement came as election monitors the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) said they had found NEC-issued voter lists in 252 communes to be 98 percent accurate.
According to a report by the Phnom Penh Post, the two groups had surveyed around 2,700 voters and were unable to verify only two percent of them, helping to quell past concerns over the quality and veracity of the lists.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has long complained about missing voter names and the inclusion of “ghost voters,” with a similar survey by Comfrel in 2011 finding that 17 percent of respondents could not find their names on polling lists.
According to the Post, the two election monitors found voter registration in the 252 communes surveyed this year to be at 89 percent—higher than the NEC’s national registration count of 81 percent.
Twelve political parties are competing for 1,646 commune council seats in the June 4 ballot that many see as a bellwether for general elections in 2018.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won more than 70 percent of the vote and secured 1,592 of 1,633 communes in Cambodia’s 2012 local elections, held before the CNRP was formed. The opposition party won nearly half of the vote in the general election the following year.
Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP, which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in June, and the opposition has warned that the ruling party seeks to prevent it from standing in the elections through a variety of different measures.
Reported by Chanratha Sorn for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.