More than 300 Cambodian workers living in Thailand were prevented from registering to vote in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town on Sunday after being unable to provide proof of residence there, officials said.
The workers crossed from Thailand but were unable to register at different registration booths because they did not live in the border town or have witnesses vouching for their residence, said Mean Sarith, chief of the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s working group in Poipet.
“The authorities said they can only register if they are living in Poipet and it was impossible to [register] people from other provinces,” Sarith said, adding that about 60 workers were able to register to vote after authorities determined that they maintained residences in Poipet.
Chao Veasna and Kun Chanty, deputy chiefs for the city’s Poipet commune and Phsa Kandal commune, respectively, said they each turned away about 50 workers hoping to register to vote in next year’s commune elections.
However, Poipet Town Governor Ngor Meng Chruon said that no more than 10 workers had been turned away in total.
“This is an exaggeration. We did not register them because they lack adequate documents,” he said.National Election Committee spokesman Hang Puthea said there were no special provisions for migrant workers without personal or family residences in Cambodia to register in border towns.
“This is the law. Whether it is fair or not – let both [political] parties solve it, because they decide the law,” Puthea said. Yet he added that if workers did stay in Cambodia for even a day and had authorities certify their stay, officials had been instructed to register them.
The CNRP has estimated that more than 1 million Cambodians work in Thailand. In the run-up to registration, the NEC said eligible voters would have to register in the communes listed or their national identity cards, or near their local workplaces if witnesses confirmed their residence.
Moeun Tola, head of worker rights group Central, said it was unfair to expect workers to go back to their home provinces to register, given their limited resources and time.
“The government could have set up 25 booths, one for each province, and let workers cross over and register in the appropriate booth,” Tola said, adding that he believed there was little will to aid migrant workers in registering.
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga