The growing migration of people to urban areas who have not registered to vote in their new constituencies is raising concerns among election monitors that many voters will not return home to cast their ballot on July 28.
Turnout in National Assembly elections in Cambodia peaked in 1998, when 93 percent of about 5 million registered voters showed up. Although more voters registered to vote in 2003 and 2008, the turnout rate fell to 83 percent and 75.7 percent respectively.
Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said most people who move locations in search of work normally do not register to vote in their new residence because of an arduous process that requires identification documentation and a permanent address.
“The law makes it difficult to register in a new place. So people stay registered in their family province,” Mr. Tola said, adding that although employers would likely give people three days off work for their staff to travel home to vote, this does not guarantee that they will actually go.
“The main problem is workers on election day just stay in Phnom Penh. Most people earn very low income and it is quite costly to travel to their home provinces to vote.”
Laura Thornton, resident director at the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute, said an audit of this year’s voter registry found that 17.1 percent of registered voters were not actually living in the location where they were registered to vote.
If the results of the audit are borne out across the country, 1.65 million registered voters must travel to cast their ballot on July 28.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that he thought people would make the effort to return to their provinces since they were particularly enthused by this year’s election.
“I think more people will vote because the campaign activity is very dynamic,” he said.
As well as concerns over the number of voters that will turn out on election day, observers say there has been no effort by the government to consider demographic changes in the country over the past five years when allocating the number of parliamentary seats up for grabs across the country.
Although Phnom Penh Municipality estimates that about 2 million people now live in the city, the National Election Committee (NEC) says the population in the capital stands at just 1.3 million.
According to the NEC, fewer than 1 million of those people are actually registered to vote in the city—which will elect 12 lawmakers.
That figure compares with Kompong Cham province, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s mostly rural home province—governed by his brother, Hun Neng until earlier this year—which has 1.285 million registered voters and will elect 18 lawmakers.
And despite economic growth and population movements across the country, nine provinces are still only apportioned one parliamentary seat. In the face of almost no hope of winning, the opposition has opted not to put significant campaign resources into these areas.
For instance, Preah Sihanouk province, which boasts a growing port and a number of special economic zones, has 127,000 registered voters for its single seat—compared to an average of 78,660 registered voters per seat nationwide.
In Ratanakkiri province, where economic land concessions are transforming the highland province into an agro-industry hub, 84,000 voters are registered to vote, but the provincial administration estimates the population to be 160,000 and rapidly rising.
In the past decade, Cambodia’ s population has grown by more than 15 percent—from 12.93 million in 2003 to 14.86 million in 2012, according to the World Bank’s figures—and in that time large portions of the population have been drawn to urban centers to find work.
A CPP-led committee last year rejected the addition or reallocation of the 123 National Assembly seats, despite electoral law requiring that this is done in order to make sure the vote is proportional.
Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy on Wednesday issued a statement saying the number of seats in Parliament must be increased.
“Over the past three successive terms (1998-2003, 2003-2008, 2008-2013) and also for the next term (2013-2018) the ruling CPP has always imposed its decision to keep the same number of Assembly seats, at 123,” Mr. Rainsy said in the statement.
“The reason is because they know that, given the current election system of proportional representation and the current formula for seat allocation, any additional seat to be created would go, in most cases, to the opposition.”
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)
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