National Election Committee (NEC) Chairman Sik Bun Hok yesterday attempted to quell criticism of the electoral body for failing to register migrant voters, insisting that the law did not empower the body to allow overseas voting or registration, and instead passing the buck to political parties to amend the legislation.
Speaking at a consultation workshop on the upcoming registration process, Bun Hok listed multiple laws and relevant articles, including the Constitution, that he claimed did not enable the NEC to register the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians living and working overseas, adding that talk about the rights of voters needed to be tempered with an understanding of the obligations of the NEC.
“We can’t break these laws. This is the limitation for the implementation of the law by the NEC,” he said. “But some people say that we impede the people’s rights.”
While none of the laws Bun Hok mentioned laid out procedures for overseas registration and voting, none actually forbade it either.
Civil society groups and the opposition party have been critical of the body for failing to facilitate the registration of migrant workers – of which there may be as many as 1.5 million, mostly spread across Thailand and South Korea. Only 7.6 million of the country’s 9.2 million eligible voters registered last year for the June 4 commune elections.
Bun Hok added that it was up to the government and political parties to amend the laws governing the NEC and the election of National Assembly members, but that it was futile to expect the electoral body to make such changes.
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay said the two major political parties had left it to the electoral body to decide on allowing overseas Cambodians to vote after the 2013 election, and that no restrictions had been imposed.
“Ask Sik Bun Hok which articles of the law stops them from doing it,” he said.
He added that the CNRP was in the process of drafting a new chapter of the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly that would specifically pertain to workers overseas, suggesting that embassies and consulates be used as polling stations, or that polling stations be set up at the Thai border.
“The NEC and government must protect the rights of the voters in these countries. But it is up to the CPP if they want to [make these changes], otherwise it will not happen,” Chhay said.
Comfrel legal officer Yoeung Sotheara said only a few civil society organisations had raised the issue at the workshop – not any of the political parties – but insisted that the NEC wasn’t completely helpless to take matters into its own hands.
“They can also make comments in the report they send to the National Assembly,” he said. “They have to do it because they are supposed to be independent and neutral.”