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Displaced villagers lose right to vote

Many residents of an impoverished Phnom Penh community, displaced from their homes in 2006 and resettled in the village of Andong, still have no right to vote in their new commune, highlighting the impact that mass evictions have had on Cambodia’s electorate.

The Sambok Chap, or “Bird’s Nest,” community was pushed out of Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district in mid-2006 and thousands found themselves in legal limbo, with no right to vote in the commune elections of 2007.

They again look to miss out on casting their ballots when Cambodia goes to the polls on July 27.

“Seventy percent of the 1,554 families in Andong village have lost the opportunity to vote due to not having identity cards or household registration books,” Am Sam Ath, senior monitor for the human rights group Licadho, said on July 23. “Most of them lost their documents in the forced eviction in 2006.”

For others, the expense of traveling to their former homes is enough to keep them from voting.

“It’s really hard for us to get to the polling station in Tonle Bassac.... It’s very far away and the travel is quite expensive. It costs 5,000 riels each way to get there, and my husband only earns 10,000 riels a day working in Phnom Penh,” said Chan Tha.

“I tried to ask the commune authority to make a new name card for me so I could vote, but because I have no documents or identity papers he said no. I personally think I won’t be able to go to vote because of the cost. We don’t have enough rice to eat anyway.”

National Election Committee head Tep Nytha said the NEC and local authorities helped re-register Andong residents back in 2007.

“We have issued Form 1018 for them if they lost their ID cards or household registration books,” Tep Nytha said. “We have already intervened there.”

But many were lost in the bureaucracy of obtaining the proper forms and documents, said Am Sam Ath.

 “People lost rights to vote and select the party they want to lead the next government,” Am Sam Ath said. By ignoring these people, he said, the local authorities “showed disrespect for democracy.”

“It’s like they’ve just thrown us into a rubbish bin,” said Andong villager Dou Sophal.

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