At least 1.5 million Cambodians will lose their right to vote in upcoming commune elections due to irregularities in voters’ registration lists, according to an election monitoring organization.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said some 1.5 million people who had voted in the 2002 and 2007 commune elections no longer have their names on voter lists ahead of the June 3 polls.
“This is a big issue—we can’t find their names. The names have been incorrectly changed,” he said.
“This is an information crisis. We are really concerned.”
According to the National Election Committee (NEC), which organizes and manages all elections in the country, there are currently more than 9 million people registered to vote in Cambodia.
But Comfrel said that irregularities in the voting lists—including missing, misspelled, and redundant names—had led to the 1.5 million omissions.
Comfrel also said that a number of “ghost names” had also been registered, referring to names for people who do not exist.
Comfrel’s Koul Panha said that all of these problems had contributed to the NEC’s voting lists being “unreliable.”
He said only around 8 million of the 9 million people on the NEC’s lists were eligible to vote, and that Comfrel had found errors affecting more than 17 percent of the lists.
Koul Panha said two different processes used to create the voting lists had led to the majority of errors.
Commune clerks in local authorities first take record of voters and send that information to NEC officials, who then create the lists.
“The two groups have blamed each other for the mistakes,” he said, adding that the process must be amended to avoid irregularities.
Other potential voters, like 52-year-old Chan Rom from Battambang province, had attempted to register, but were never provided with the information they needed to do so.
Chan Rom said she and four other members of her family never received their voting cards, which are required for registration, despite receiving cards ahead of previous elections.
“We don’t have voting cards, which contain vital information about voting registration,” she said.
Ou Kim, opposition Sam Rainsy Party commune councilor in Battambang’s Santipheap commune, blamed local authorities for not accommodating the voters.
He said that at least 50 voters in his commune are still not listed on voting rolls, despite having lived there for nearly 10 years.
Irregularities were occurring because local authorities had demanded too many documents from potential voters to register and because they often discriminated against opposition party activists and supporters, according to Ou Kim.
“Authorities at all levels must be neutral and not biased against any political parties,” he said.
Battambang provincial Election Committee director Vorn Porn said the NEC had notified the public to register to vote as early as last year, but that many residents of Battambang had since migrated to different locations for work, making them ineligible to register.
“Villagers who stayed in their communities have registered to vote, but those who have migrated from other places can’t,” he said, adding that electoral law requires voters to reside in the commune for which they are electing commune councilors.
Call for reform
Sun Tek, Battambang provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Licadho, noted several problems obstructing potential voters from registering.
He said people living along the border lack voting cards, allowing them to register, while others are unable to fill out the electoral forms needed to register. He added that local election officials had not been helpful in assisting potential voters.
Comfrel urged the NEC to reform its registration system, calling on the commission to employ computer technology to record voters’ identities and IDs.
This would allow voters to more easily check their names for registration, the organization said.
“We don’t have anything like that now. The voting lists now register only ages and names,” Koul Panha said.
Reported by Sophalmony Soun for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.