poum dy prampi, Siem Reap Province – They came by rickety dinghy and hooded longboat, using floating vessels that are their homes and workplaces to get to a voting booth.
By 8 am, fishermen and fruitsellers had parked the wooden boats three-deep against stilts supporting this floating village’s primary school, about 20 km south of Siem Reap town. People called to each other in Vietnamese; many wore conical hats.
They clutched registration cards and tested indelible ink on their fingers while waiting to vote.
They waited knee-deep in murky water, rolling their pants up, clinging to a wooden railing or balancing on the handrails of steps submerged in lake water.
The lack of voter education was painfully obvious. One NGO observer kept busy ensuring that only one person at a time occupied a voting booth.
And the apparent preponderance of ethnic Vietnamese showcased a sensitive subject that has been repeated over and over during opposition campaign speeches: alleged illegal immigration.
Most people interviewed here said they found out about the election a day or two before when their village or commune chief told them to come and vote. Others said they heard about the elections weeks ago on television. Few received instructions on how fill out a ballot. None could name a political party.
“I just checked whichever picture I liked,” said fruitseller Yan Deun, 39, referring to the party logo printed on the ballot next to the party name.
“I just close my eyes and tick one box, because no one has told me how to vote,” a fisherman said.
While voters held registration cards, few knew what they were for. Few appeared to care about politics. “I don’t care very much about the election,” said a 48-year-old fisherman who identified himself as Son. “I just want to live and do my business.”
None of the 23 political candidates running in Siem Reap province had come to speak to them, they said.
Cambodian poll observers here said Sunday that most of the voters at Poum Dy Prampi were Vietnamese. Opposition parties say they are Cambodian People’s Party supporters. More than 1,100 people were registered at the stations, poll workers said.
Party observers, translators and poll officials registered a deep displeasure with the scene at the floating village Sunday. Few voters, they said, spoke fluent Khmer. “If they’re Khmer, I don’t worry.” said Tao Sitha, 24, a Sangkum Thmei Party observer. “But if they’re Vietnamese, I worry.”
Buth Kary, provincial election commission chief, Sunday in Siem Reap town dismissed the reports. “At this floating station, no complaints happened during registration regarding Vietnamese,” he said. He said he invited observers to watch over the registration process.