Though it has refused calls to open new channels for migrant workers to vote in upcoming elections, the National Election Committee (NEC) has sent a letter to all Cambodian embassies appealing for citizens living abroad to return home to register for next year’s polls.
But as the launch of new computerized voter registration on September 1 draws near, the letter has not yet been received by officials in South Korea or Thailand, which host up to 1 million Cambodians combined, with the vast majority in Thailand.
“We have asked Cambodian officials at Cambodian embassies to help disseminate the new voter registration information for new voter lists,” NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said earlier this week.
As a condition of the 2014 political agreement between the CPP and CNRP, the bipartisan NEC has been tasked with re-registering the country’s 9.6 million eligible voters to eliminate hundreds of thousands of double and missing names on the previous voter list.
The NEC’s letter to embassies, dated August 5 and obtained on Wednesday, states that the registration period will be open seven days per week from the beginning of next month until November 29.
“If brothers and sisters do not come to register to vote, you are not able to vote on polling day” on June 4, 2017, it said, adding that national identification cards are required to get on the voter list.
Speaking on Thursday, both Lama Tin, the official in charge of migrant workers at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, and Long Dimanche, Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea, said they had not received the letter.
“I heard about it, but I haven’t actually read it,” Mr. Tin said, adding that the embassy still intended to inform migrant workers about election registration, though their plans were pending approval from the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Hypothetical plans for dissemination include broadcasting the letter’s contents on Thai television, posting it to Facebook and asking the Thai Labor Ministry to encourage employers to post it in workplaces, he said.
“We will try our best to bring the workers the word,” he said, conceding that even well-informed workers would struggle with money and the demands of their employers in attempting to return.
Unless “they were back visiting family and [coincidentally present] on polling day,” none of the estimated 46,000 Cambodians living in South Korea should be expected to return for registration or voting, Mr. Dimanche said.
“There have been no such cases in the past,” he added.
According to Moeun Tola, the head of the labor rights group Central, requesting migrant workers to return “is not logical,” and both registration and voting should instead be offered at Cambodian embassies abroad.
“It’s very difficult for migrant workers in Malaysia and South Korea” to return, he said. Even for Cambodians working in Thailand, he said, many are working on “pink cards,” which grant them permission to stay in the country but constrain their movement across provinces.
The NEC, however, has rejected proposals from the opposition and rights groups to allow migrant workers to vote from abroad, either through computers or at polling stations, and has even refused to consider setting up voting centers along the border with Thailand.
Without such significant steps, Mr. Tola said a sizable part of the country’s population would not have their voices heard at the ballot box.
“If more than 1 million people cannot access to vote, then the vote results cannot reflect the feelings of the citizens—of the voters,” he said. “It also does not reflect what we are guaranteed in the Cambodian Constitution, which is that everyone has the right to vote.”