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Historic first for disability

Historic first for disability

It was one of the least-known aspects of the election, but no less historic for that:

among those employed to observe the ballot were 200 disabled people, a first for

Cambodia. In a country with one of the highest rates of disability-and a poor attitude

towards it-using disabled people in such a key role was, say the organizers, a deliberate


Another reason was to promote the participation of all people in elections, and to

ensure that people with disabilities were involved. All went on a course to train

them how to evaluate whether the vote was conducted in a free, fair and transparent


Srey Vanthon, the director of Action on Disability and Development (ADD), told the

Post on July 18 that most would be placed in Kampong Speu province.

"We will have 169 observers in Kampong Speu, another 14 in Kampong Chhnang,

and 11 in Phnom Penh's Stung Meanchey district. There are also six mobile observers,"

he said. "And 57 of the total number are women."

Vanthon said the participants in the project, which began on May 1 and will end in

August, were approved by the National Election Committee for observer status on July


"The staff are all disabled volunteers. We are not concerned about the extent

of their disability, as long as they have volunteered to do the job," he said.

"For example, if someone is blind he will be accompanied by another disabled

person who will write down everything the blind person hears on voting day."

The head of the National Center for Disabled People (NCDP) said the occasion was

an important one for disabled Cambodians. As citizens, said Yi Veasna, they were

entitled to take part in every aspect of the election, including standing as candidates.

"The number of disabled people is actually higher than the reported statistic

of 2.2 percent," said Veasna. "But even if we use that statistic, it makes

275,000 people which equates to seven parliamentary seats."

ADD department head Hoy Sochivanny told the Post on July 29 that all indications

were that the observers had worked hard and done a good job.

"Our figures show that on election day, around 80 percent of the disabled voters

who came to the stations were helped by our volunteers," she said. "We

are discussing setting up this project for the village chief elections, which may

take place in 2004, and of course for the next national election [in 2008]."

Fifty-six-year-old Vong Saveun from Kampong Speu was scheduled to observe in Tompor

Tep commune in his home province. Saveun, who lost his leg to a landmine, wanted

to ensure fair treatment for disabled voters.

"I struggle for equality. As a disabled person I can say we always suffer from

discrimination in our community," he said. "This job is not difficult for

me, because the organization allocated our responsibilities based on our capabilities."

Koul Panha, the president of Comfrel, the country's largest election monitoring organization,

welcomed the participation of the disabled observers, and said it would provide a

good example to other people.

"The attitudes of disabled people towards the election process is different

from that of able-bodied people, in the same way that men and women differ over certain

issues," he said. "I support the participation of more disabled people,

because the process of observing doesn't just end when the new government is formed."

ADD's Vanthon said the organizers were optimistic the venture would have long-lasting


"We have high hopes that our observers will uncover all the obstacles that deter

other disabled people from participating fully in the election and exercising their

rights as citizens," he said. "More than that, we hope that their actions

will ensure that all lawmakers and policymakers take more interest in disabled people."