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Lack of IDs Could Inhibit Cambodian Voter Registration Project

FILE - An election official shows a ballot paper as votes are counted at a polling station in Phnom Penh, July 28, 2013.

A pilot project in Cambodia to register new voters, set to begin in November, will meet difficulties because many villagers lack simple identification cards, officials say.

The National Election Committee (NEC) hopes to test a new digital registration process in 41 villages, ahead of local elections in 2017.

But the government estimates that as many as half of the country’s 9 million potential voters do not have the identification that would be required for any kind of registration.

Ung Krin, 55, a mother of three who lives in Kampong Chhnang province, is an example of a nonregistered voter. “It is concerning,” she said. “If I don't have an ID card, I won't be allowed to vote.”

The Ministry of Interior recently began providing a new type of ID card to replace expired identification nationwide. But Mao Chandara, who is in charge of the ministry’s identification department, said it is unlikely new ID cards will be issued to everyone by November.

“We have provided the new kind of ID to 5½ million people,” he said, “but we can't complete the task, because it is a few months away.”

The department will try hard to help the NEC complete the pilot registration project, and he expects the IDs to be fully issued to people by March 2016, well ahead of commune elections.

The NEC project will use computers and a digital system to register eligible voters for local elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018.

Ruling and opposition party officials have both said they intend to closely monitor the new system and the NEC.

Cambodia's last election in 2013 was marred by disputes over the results. The opposition alleged widespread voter fraud, a charge denied by the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.