NGOs on Wednesday renewed a push for the National Election Committee to let Cambodians working abroad register to vote, as an opposition lawmaker also challenged the committee to back up its claim that current laws would need to be amended to make it happen.
The National Election Committee (NEC) has repeatedly shot down proposals from the opposition and independent election observers that would help more than 1 million Cambodians working abroad register to vote. At a roundtable organized by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Phnom Penh to discuss the NEC’s proposed changes to registration rules, they tried again.
Sam Kuntheamy, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said it would take relatively little money and technical know-how to let nationals working abroad register—and even vote—where they are and spare them a long and expensive trip home.
“They can register at our Cambodian embassies in those countries, and after the vote the ballots can be sent to Cambodia to be cast. Nothing is hard,” he said. “Technically, if I look at it, it doesn’t cost a lot of money. We are only afraid that a lack of political will makes it impossible.”
Moeun Tola, director of the labor rights NGO Central, said it would make it far easier for the more than 1 million Cambodians working in Thailand to vote, along with the tens of thousands working in Malaysia and South Korea.
“The best option for guaranteeing their right to vote is creating registration offices and polling stations at the embassy or consulate,” he said.
“For example, in Thailand we have our embassy in Bangkok and we have our consulate in Sa Kaeo [province].”
He said the next best option, also previously rejected by the NEC, was to set up registration offices in Cambodia but close to the Thai border in order to save Cambodians working in Thailand a trip all the way back to their home provinces.
Dy Phyron, a deputy director of the NEC’s general secretariat, said he would pass the suggestions on to the nine-member committee but said he believed they would require amendments to the election laws.
“In principle the registration has to happen in the commune where they have to go to vote. So whichever commune they live in, they have to register in that commune. The law on elections doesn’t require us to register [citizens] overseas,” he said.
But CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay begged to differ and asked the NEC to point out exactly where in the law overseas registration was prohibited.
“I would like to certify that the law doesn’t forbid. The law authorizies the NEC to implement [the law] as much as it possibly can,” he said.
“If the NEC says that some work can’t be done because of the law, please, NEC, specify what article of the law and how they want it to be changed. We will be ready to propose that [amendment to the] law immediately, no more than a week.”
The NEC is scheduled to conduct its voter registration drive for next year’s national election from September 1 to November 9.
Some of the country’s minor parties also attended the roundtable. Comfrel said the ruling CPP was invited as well but did not send a representative.