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Local chiefs still key to registration, study finds

An election official processes a person’s identification card for digitised voter registration at an office in Phnom Penh last month.
An election official processes a person’s identification card for digitised voter registration at an office in Phnom Penh last month.

Local chiefs still key to registration, study finds

Despite having access to other sources of information about the election process, including television and smartphones, Cambodia’s urban poor remain heavily reliant on potentially biased village-level officials when it comes to voter registration, according to a new report.

The study from land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), which surveyed three communities across Phnom Penh, found that 45 percent of respondents had learned of the need to register from their village chief, while nearly as many depended on the chief to then walk them through the process.

The survey’s 237 respondents said they still gleaned general knowledge about the elections from TV broadcasts, word of mouth, radio and Facebook. But despite a generally high level of access to technology, STT program adviser Jessica Sercombe said respondents were still reliant on “traditional forms” of information dissemination that could be influenced by political inclinations.

“There is always a potential risk of [local authorities] having a bias,” she said. “There is a lot of potentials for [information] gaps to take place.”

The survey also found a majority of participants unfamiliar with voter eligibility requirements. More than 80 percent were unable to identify more than two of five criteria such as identity cards and age.

Ros Nin, village chief for Village 23 in Tuol Kork district, one of the surveyed locations, said while he was focused on getting first-time voters registered, he was making no pretence of impartiality.

“I told them to please vote for our party, because those young people are not yet in our Cambodian People’s Party,” he said.

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