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Migrant voter registration discussed

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay speaks to the press after a roundtable discussion on voter registration for migrant workers yesterday in Phnom Penh.
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay speaks to the press after a roundtable discussion on voter registration for migrant workers yesterday in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Migrant voter registration discussed

Civil society groups and four opposition political parties have called on the National Election Committee (NEC) to facilitate the registration of overseas Cambodian workers before next year’s national ballot, but the committee continues to maintain that such a measure is beyond its jurisdiction.

Moeun Tola, head of labour rights group Central, said Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia alone housed well over a million migrant workers and that the NEC should look to register them at embassies and consulates in those countries.

If that is not possible, he said, registration booths should exist along the Thai border, though he pointed out that could be a costly option for voters.

Creation of a new voter registration list was an integral part of the political compromise reached by the two major political parties following the contested 2013 national election. During last year’s registration drive, only 7.8 million of 9.6 eligible voters were added to the voter rolls, with most of those left out working overseas.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party has advocated for letting migrant voters register overseas. Party chief whip Son Chhay said yesterday that the CNRP and Cambodian People’s Party failed to resolve the issue in 2014 and instead agreed to leave it to the reformed NEC to decide.

If the NEC still felt the matter is outside its legal purview, Chhay added, they should send a report to the National Assembly to consider amending the law.

“I also want to clarify that when there are challenges in law implementation and that affects the interests of the people, NEC can report to the National Assembly for lawmakers to consider the proposal,” he said.

Dy Phyron, deputy director for the NEC’s General Secretariat, said he would present the proposal to the nine-member body but maintained that the law governing the NEC made no mention of facilitating overseas registrations.

“As a principle, people can register where they are living and the law does not allow us to make registration offices overseas,” he said.

While no members from the ruling party were present at the meeting, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said there would be no discussion to revise the law. He went on to criticise election monitors, saying that even if the proposal were considered, civil society groups would again call the process “not fully free and fair”, a reference to civil society criticism of the political environment leading up to the recent commune elections.

“Even when they had their own agents in polling stations they claimed elections were not free and fair,” he said. “So when it [the process] is far from them, how can we make it free and fair elections for them?”

On Tuesday, election monitors Comfrel and Nicfec released an open letter to Interior Minister Sar Kheng requesting a meeting and seeking clarification on criticism against election monitoring coalition the Situation Room. Prime Minister Hun Sen has questioned the coalition’s legality while the Interior Ministry has accused the monitoring group of bias.

The election monitors clarified that the Law on NGOs allows registered groups to band together for short-term projects, and the coalition’s observers were all independently registered and not affiliated with any political party.

Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the letter had been received and that Secretary of State Pol Lim had been instructed to set up a meeting. Lim said that he had yet to decide on a date.

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