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NEC Braces for Upcoming Elections


[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the first in a two-part series examining the National Election Committee's role.]

There are four months to go until until the next general election, when more than 8.1 million Cambodians are expected to choose their parliamentarian representatives.

Im Sousdey, president of the National Election Committee, said that the NEC is preparing mechanisms for education on information necessary for these voters.

"We must educate the public on an information card. We will broadcast an informational spot explaining to them the necessity of voting," he said recently, adding that people must know they can still vote without the card.

The promotional spot is just one way the national committee says it is preparing for the elections, Cambodia's fourth. The first one, sponsored by the UN, was held in May 1993, following 30 years of civil war.

"We will make a spot to inform the people of the place where they must go to vote, and to find their name. We must make this broadcast a priority," Im Sousedey said.

The NEC expects a $17 million general price tag for the election, which will be held on July 27. Donors will provide $6.7 million, with Japan and Canada providing nearly $4 million.

The NEC will be overseeing an expanding field of parties, as well. There were 23 parties participating in the previous general election in 2003. The Ministry of Interior has now registered more than 50 parties for this election, and more than 10 others are expected to register.

Im Sousdey said the registration for new political parties will start April 28.

"From June 26, for a month, NEC will cover the electoral campaign, and we will broadcast the political platforms of the parties, make a spot for them," he said.

The NEC has prepared procedures for the election that will enable NGOs and parties to provide their own points of view.

But some parties say that this is not enough for the independence and transparency of the NEC.

Muth Chantha, spokesman for the Norodom Ranariddh Party, said the NEC has not accepted the opinions of the political party. The NEC is not transparent, he said.

Im Francois, an election official for the Center for Social Development, noted that some processes of the NEC are complicated for voters, so the NEC should modify them.

Meanwhile, ahead of the election, some political parties have bolstered their activities to gain the confidence of voters.

But Keo Remy, vice president of the Human Rights Party, said that the space of expression on-air is not equal for all parties.

"This is difficult for our party to rent the radio" air-time, he said. "But the government uses many ways for the interest of their party. This is not equality for all parties."

The NEC confessed that they don't have a right to control all the mass media ahead of the one-month campaign period.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith, from the ruling Cambodian People's Party, said the government has equality programs sponsored by UNDP.

These provide opportunities for other parties to have a voice on the government air waves, he said, adding, though, that parties have the ability to rent private air-time to broadcast their activities and platforms.

After each general election, there have been protests over the results. So the independent Committee for Free and Fair Elections plans to deploy 1,319 observers throughout the country in the election, in an affiliation with the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

For its part, the European Commission, whose delegation just finished a technical visit on election issues on March 17, plans to send about 150 to 200 observers.

Im Sousdey said that more international and national observers are helping the NEC raise up the equality and fairness of elections, and the number of observers must not be limited.

However, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said recently that these conditions are not enough to ensure free and fair elections.

"To have free and fair elections, they have to respect the proposal of the SRP," he said.

The SRP has requested that the NEC take action to avoid voting fraud, and ensure the transparency of vote-counting and stop the use of form 1018, a form authorities provide to people who do not yet have voter identification card. Critics say the use of form 1018 opens the possibility of voting by non-registered political supporters.

Concerns over the transparency of the NEC and voting fraud has been a problem following every election. Now the opposition, as well as other parties not yet holding National Assembly seats, is asking for NEC reform.

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