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Voters lose interest in election

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Voter turnout fell to an all-time low in the recent elections, driving observers to puzzle over why people suddenly can't be bothered to go to the polls

AFP

People crowd the roofs of taxis as they leave Phnom Penh to return to their home provinces on election weekend last month. For many, travel costs were a disincentive to vote.

MUCH ink and a little blood have been spilled over the Kingdom's recent elections, the fourth since UN-backed polls in 1993. But voter turnout hit an all-time low, which begs asking: Are Cambodians getting bored of democracy?

"I've gotten lazy and I can't be bothered to go to the polling station to vote, as the results never change anything," said Pen Makara, a 27-year-old student at Build Bright University in Phnom Penh.

An impressive 93.7 percent of eligible Cambodians voted in 1998's national elections, but voter turnout has been steadily dropping. This year 70 to 75 percent of those able to vote did so.

"They are bored of the electoral process," Koul Panha, the executive director of election monitor Comfrel, told the Post.

"We've started interviewing thousands of people who did not have inked fingers. We are wondering why they do not vote. We suspect they were unwilling rather than unable," he said.   

Travel deterrent

According to Koul Panha, people might be more motivated to vote if election procedures were as easy as they were in the 1993 election. At that time, anyone who had a valid ID card could vote anywhere they chose.

Bureaucratic hurdles to registration or the time and expense of travelling home to vote were the main deterrent to voting.

Lam Bopha, 25, a student at the Faculty of Pedagogy in Phnom Penh, said that despite being eligible to vote for years, she has not been able to afford to travel to Ratanakkiri in order to register.

IT DOESN'T MEAN I DIDN’T WANT TO VOTE, BUT IT COSTS ME MONEY AND I DON’T EARN VERY MUCH.

"I know I'm eligible to vote and I really wish I had," she said. "It would have cost so much for me to [travel home to] register and vote," she said, adding she regretted her lack of participation as "winning or losing can count on one vote".
The difficulty of travelling home to register and vote was also cited by Yin Dary, 52, a Phnom Penh resident who now works in Siem Reap province.

"I voted in previous elections, but this time, I did not," she told the Post. To get to Phnom Penh - where she is registered to vote - and then back to Siem Reap would have cost her US$15 for the bus tickets, which she felt was too much.

"It doesn't mean I didn't want to vote, but it costs me money and I don't earn very much," she said.

Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee, said last week he "did not understand why it is so complicated for those people".

"The registration process of NEC is not difficult to follow, but the voters are busy and they ignore it until the last minute," he said.

He said that allowing people to vote with just an ID card was impossible. "We will be unable to keep a record of registered voters if we do this."

He said that during the UNTAC election in 1993 it was hard to control the number of voters because people were able to vote "anywhere they wanted" rather than their home provinces.

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