Low-income factory workers and illiterate citizens risk being left behind in the country’s voter registration process if current policies remain unchanged, Transparency International Cambodia warned yesterday, as it forwarded a list of recommendations to the National Election Commission.
Civil society groups had until yesterday to submit feedback on the proposed regulations governing voter registration.
Among its laundry list of suggestions, TI called for sweeping changes to the NEC’s complaint-lodging process, including clarifying certain vague clauses and creating dissemination campaigns to better spread voting information to the public.
Additionally, TI demanded that voters, such as garment factory workers living in rented apartments with no written lease agreements be afforded a way to register to vote by the Ministry of Interior.
“With regard to voters living in rented apartments… it has come to our attention that there was great difficulty for tenants in obtaining written lease agreements from their landlords,” TI Cambodia executive director Preap Kol said yesterday at a press event, adding that this inability to prove residency makes it especially difficult for workers who don’t hold ID cards to register to vote.
Kol also highlighted the difficulties that Cambodia’s “vulnerable groups”, such as illiterate residents, face both in registering to vote as well as filing complaints with the NEC.
“For example, to file a complaint, they would need to fill out some form and then deliver that form to the relevant officials,” he said after the conference.
“In the case that they are illiterate, they cannot fill out the form by themselves – there is no arrangement that would help them.”
Kol also voiced his support for changing the conflict resolution process in commune councils from an absolute majority vote – commonly known as 50 per cent plus one – to a two-thirds majority vote in order to counter any domination by one political party in certain areas.
Kol aired hope that the commission will “enable every eligible voter to easily register” and “continue to consult civil society more and more widely” as the process continues.
Koul Panha, executive director of local election watchdog Comfrel, said registering to vote should be an inclusive process that is not weighed down by patronage networks and corrupt officials.
“I think our government is not very pro-poor, and that’s why it’s hard for [the poor] to access services such as identification cards,” he said.
“If you go through the government, you’re going to have to wait, since corruption is such an issue.”
Panha reiterated that the identification issue is “very important,” especially when Cambodians working outside of the country are considered, as they often don’t have the necessary documents to partake.
“We are concerned about workers in Cambodia, and also those working abroad,” he said.
“The election law only allows those who come back to register, and many of them don’t have IDs.”
Meanwhile, independent political analyst Ou Virak said that while many of the suggestions issued may be aimed at “stacking the deck” in favour of the opposition, the recommendations by civil society organisations can be boiled down to a general lack of trust in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the government at large.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if civil society is cooking up a formula to guarantee proportionality,” he said.
“Generally, there is a lot of mistrust of the government, the CPP, so some of the recommendations may reflect that.”