Puthea: NEC welcomes observers for Cambodia’s free, fair elections

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea attending a committee meeting in 2018. Heng Chivoan

The National Election Committee (NEC) is in the process of updating and verifying the 2021 voter registration list in preparation for the 5th mandate commune council elections scheduled for June 5, 2022.

Hang Puthea is a member of the NEC and also serves as its spokesman. He sat for an interview with The Post to discuss voter registration and election procedures.

How is the 2021 voter registration and verification process going?

When we first began on October 12, NEC opened 1,646 voter registration offices in all communes throughout the country on schedule and as planned. They are open from 7am to 5pm until November 30.

People who are just turning 18 are registering and some first-time registrants as well. It is going normally just as expected, in other words, and on average over 10,000 voters are registering per day.

Separately, for verifying the voter list, the NEC has also developed an app that can check for the voter’s name on their mobile phone and through the NEC website. Thus, we don’t see as many people going to check the voter list in-person now.

Regarding the clean-up of the voter list through the deletion of the names of the deceased, how does that process work?

Voters whose names must be removed include those who have died and those who are serving prison sentences as the law does not allow prisoners to vote. But the most common reason for the removal of a name from the list is because that person moved to a new location and they intend to change their registration to that commune.

In this work, the NEC is very careful not to mistakenly or carelessly remove the name of any citizen from the voter list.

If the number of people who are registered is only around 10,000 on average per day while the NEC plans to register over 1.6 million people by November 30, can you explain how that will be possible?

Currently we are seeing an average of 10,000 people registering per day but based on past experience, I’d say people don’t pay much attention to the matter during the first half or more of the registration period, but when the deadline approaches they all register in a rush.

So we can’t really guess where we’ll be at by November 30 when we’re only a week into the process and the whole country is well aware that they have 50 days to act on it.

Are local or international election observers involved in the 2021 voter registration and verification process?

According to the law, civil society organisations’ observers and political parties can apply to monitor and watch the process being carried out. But with or without observers, the NEC will continue to operate in the exact same manner – according to the law.

We don’t mind observers being present. Hopefully it provides reassurances to their organisations or candidates and that’s good because we anticipate that they will be truthful and verify for the public and the international community that these are free and fair elections.

After voter registration and verification are complete, what does NEC do next?

The NEC will be ready to hold universal elections in all communes across the country on June 5, with the polling station locations already planned.

We will train election officials, set up the polling places – including with Covid-19 prevention equipment, prepare our IT staff to solve any technological issues that may arise in a timely manner and of course we will try to raise public awareness and encourage those citizens who are eligible to vote on June 5 next year.

Could you explain why this year the voter list update period is lasting for 50 days when in previous years it has always been 20 days?

By law, each year the NEC must update the voter list by reviewing it and registering voters for a period of no less than 20 days during non-election years.

During election years the period must be 50 days in order to make sure the voter list is comprehensive, accurate and current.