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Students given time off to vote

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks to supporters during a Cambodian People’s Party campaign rally in June 2017 in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Students given time off to vote

Election observers and former opposition party officials have claimed an announcement by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Tuesday, which allows students to have three days off to vote in the July 29 national elections, is for political gain.

The decision by the ministry was made upon a recommendation by Prime Minister Hun Sen during a graduation ceremony for students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh on June 22.

The announcement, signed by the ministry’s Secretary of State Pit Chamnan, stated: “With the above subject and reference, I would like to inform all ladies and gentlemen that to make it easy for students to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections on July 29, [we ask schools to] allow students who are studying at your educational establishments to have three days off from July 28 to July 30.”

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec), said allowing students at educational institutions to have three days off is something that has never happened during previous elections, and may not be effective in boosting voter turnout.

“We see there are a lot of students on the voter registration list, so the royal government [has] urged them to go to vote. This is [for] political gain. The Ministry of Education cannot avoid criticism.

“Allowing them to have days off will not be effective as some voters have already decided [they will not go to vote] regardless of any appeal,” he claimed.

But ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed the allegation, saying this is simply a policy to encourage people, such as students, who are eligible to vote, to have enough time to cast their ballot.

The time, he said, will also provide people with the opportunity to respond to the opposition, which has been trying to persuade them not to vote.

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Cheam Channy said for the commune elections last year, the government did not provide students or factory workers time off work to vote, and that this latest move has been made due to concerns people will not turn out to vote.

“[The three days off for students] is to motivate them to vote. This is politically motivated. The voter turnout will not change, although there is now a motivation and pressure, as voters have already determined [they will not go to vote]."

“[The government] needs legitimacy, so [it] needs a large number of people to vote. The government providing this opportunity is [because] they want people to vote,” Channy claimed.

In response, Eysan said: “If [the opposition] did not conduct a campaign to stop people from voting, and they did not incite people not to vote, [the announcement] would not exist. It is a response to the poisonous trick [by the opposition] to make the elections a failure.”

Eysan said it is the opposition, particularly the CNRP, that is worried about people voting.

“The party led a campaign to prevent people from casting their ballot through lies and incitement. It is the duty of the state and political parties to encourage people to vote,” he said.

On June 13, the Ministry of Labour also issued a notification to all factory owners and company directors requiring them to allow workers to have three days off to vote in the elections.

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