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Myanmar Elections Seen as Model for Cambodia

FILE - Young men are seen taking photos of a ballot box at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 28, 2013.
FILE - Young men are seen taking photos of a ballot box at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 28, 2013.

As Cambodia ramps up for local elections in 2017 and national elections the year after, experts say it should look to November's election in Myanmar — also known as Burma — to improve security and build confidence in voters.

During the elections in Myanmar, which came after decades of military rule, polling station observers and peacekeepers were deployed to ensure free and fair voting procedures. Among them were Cambodians who will be monitoring their own country's upcoming polls.

"During election day, we learned that it's the people who take care of security affairs," said Koul Panha, head of the election monitoring group Comfrel, which observed the vote in Myanmar. "They taught people how to maintain security at the polling stations."

Sam Kuntheamy, head of the election monitoring group Nicfec, said good security management meant fewer violations.

"We should follow this good point of theirs," he said. "They did it differently and better than us. We used a lot of armed forces, which shows that there is a lot of insecurity. Firstly, it didn't feel like a free election. It seemed like the freedom in the elections was still in a fragile state."

Security in the Myanmar election was conducted with input from political parties, something that is unlikely to happen in Cambodia, he said.

"The related parties, such as the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense, are afraid that the government cannot accept such measures," he said. "So they follow the old model."

Officials at the Ministry of Interior could not be reached for comment.

Roles for women

Hang Puthea, the former head of Nicfec who now serves as a member of the National Election Committee (NEC), said the NEC will raise security issues with the Ministry of Interior as it prepares voter registration.

Koul Panha urged the NEC to work harder to be more transparent and to find more roles for women in the election process and vote counting.

"The vote count is important after elections," he said. "Women play a good role in the management of the vote-counting process. Engaging more women in that role will enhance the confidence in the official vote when it comes to vote counting during the election days."

Cambodian officials are working to improve elections that follow polls in 2013, where allegations of widespread irregularities moved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to boycott participation in government for nearly a year.

This article was produced іn collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.