Against Decree, Monks Try to Register to Vote

Hundreds of Buddhist monks de­fied orders from Cambodia’s supreme religious patriarch warning them to stay out of politics and on Monday attempted to register for the July general elections.

But notoriously strict rules governing voter identification left most of the monks unregistered —a situation blamed on the religious leaders of Phnom Penh’s pagodas, which are accused of withholding crucial letters that prove the residences for the would-be voters.

Accompanied by opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, more than 50 monks and dozens of students from Wat Lanka descended on the Boeng Keng Kang I reg­istration center.

“I have come here three times, but I have been refused because I don’t have a note [of residency] from the chief monk,” said Chhay Chhorith, 33, who was turned down de­spite submitting his passport and an identification booklet for monks. He said many monks have been denied letters of residency, be­cause chief monks say they should not vote.

In the Chamkar Mon district, more than 70 monks from Wat Mo­ham Montrey went to register, but only three were successful, said commune officials who noted the monks had no proof of residency.

Cambodia’s monks have been largely prevented from participating in the upcoming election following last year’s decree from Su­p­reme Patriarch Tep Vong de­claring Cambodian Bud­dhism incompatible with voting.

But both the Cambodian Con­sti­tution and the National Elec­tion Committee ensures monks the right to vote, while on Sat­ur­day, King Norodom Sihanouk re­quested that the NEC facilitate monks voting in the election.

Keo Phalla, director of the NEC’s legal services and complaints office, said Monday he talk­ed with the chief monks at wats Ounalom, Botum and Svay Pope who have now agreed to provide monks with proof of residency.

However, Sam Rainsy said the ob­stacles hindering monks voting merited more ex­tensions of the election registration period.

“There is so much confusion and lack of information. Even monks who had the right documentation were not sure of their rights to vote,” Sam Rainsy said.



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