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Blind hail introduction of special ballot papers

A leading member of the blind community has hailed a move by the National Election Commission that will make it easier for tens of thousands of sight-impaired Cambodians to vote in the July 27 general election.

“It is very good,” said the executive director of the Association of the Blind in Cambodia, Boun Mao, referring to the commission’s decision to introduce special ballot papers based on a concept he proposed before the 2003 general election.

“It gives a 100 percent opportunity for the blind to cast votes in secret,” Mao said of the voting system, under which sight-impaired voters will use a card that enables them to identify by touch each party according to its position on a list.

“I submitted the concept to the NEC before the 2003 election but they did not use it at that time,” he told the Post on June 17.

Mao, who was blinded in an acid attack in 1993, said about 144,000 blind Cambodians were eligible to vote, but almost all of them had never participated in an election.

“Most of them don’t even have ID cards, so how can they get voter registration cards?” Mao said in an earlier interview before the commission unveiled its decision on June 16. He said the blind also had problems arranging travel to polling stations.

Mao said he had voted in every national election with the assistance of a relative who marked his ballot paper.

“However, I could not be absolutely certain that my relative voted for the party of my choice,” he said, explaining that the need to vote in secret had inspired his concept for special ballot cards for the blind.

Announcing the decision to introduce the cards, commission secretary general Tep Nytha acknowledged that they were based on the concept proposed by Mao.

The blind would continue to be able to have assistants cast ballots for them, Nytha said.

“We will promote the use of the special ballots for the blind, mainly through the radio, for 15 days before election day,” he said.

“We absolutely encourage the blind to register to vote, if they have the necessary identity documents,” Nytha said.

“There is no discrimination against them.”

News of the special ballot papers has already resulted in some members of the blind community deciding to vote for the first time on July 27.

“Through this method I can be certain of voting for the party of my choice,” said Kampot resident Mam Meth, 45, who was left blind after contracting measles when he was 15.

“I really want to vote because I want to use my right as a citizen to vote for a leader I love,” he said.

Nav Chantharith, 36, a native of Kandal province, will also be voting for the first time on July 27.

Chantharith said he had not participated in general elections since 1993 despite having a voter registration card because of his inability to vote in secret and the difficulty of arranging travel to a polling station.

“The special ballot papers for the blind are good because we can be certain of voting for the party of our choice and in secret,” said Chantharith, who lost his sight 33 years ago when he contracted retinitis.

“However, it will be better if Braille is used for the ballot papers because it will encourage more blind people to learn Braille; it’s a means of promoting Braille,” said Chantharith, who works for the NGO World Vision.

However, the NEC’s Nytha said it had no plan to provide Braille ballot papers because of budgetary constraints.

The NEC said earlier this month that 8,125,529 voters were registered for the election, with voting to take place at 15,255 polling stations throughout the country.

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