Prime Minister Hun Sen has dismissed calls to allow Cambodians living abroad to vote in the next election, claiming it would be impossible under the Kingdom’s proportional representative electoral system.
But a vast string of other countries – including Indonesia and several European nations – operate under the proportional representative system yet extend the right to vote to their citizens abroad.
Speaking in Rancho Mirage in California on Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen told a group of Cambodian-American supporters not to believe statements from the opposition CNRP.
“Cambodians living abroad should stop believing them. If we used the electoral system of the US, we could consider it, but in the proportional system in Cambodia … it is a problem,” he said, in audio footage provided by local news outlet Thmey Thmey.
The premier said an absentee-voting process would be further complicated due to restrictions of time and place, as voters are currently required to register in one of the Kingdom’s 25 provinces to vote for their preferred party.
“If a Cambodian living abroad can vote, at which province do they register?” Prime Minister Hun Sen asked.
“Voting here [in Cambodia], the voting starts from 7am until 3pm and the ballot box is sealed immediately. When we did that, they [the CNRP] said the ballot was a fraud, so, what would they say if we have the voting system like in the US, in which some states have different times?” he said.
For Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog COMFREL, the premier’s claims have a hollow ring. “It’s not about the electoral system … there is not the political will to allow absentee voting,” he said.
“There is a lot of conflict, because people living abroad always support the opposition. That may be contributing to why the ruling party are not willing to [allow] absentee voting. They are not really willing to promote the integrity of elections, which should be free and fair.”
Panha said that while there were valid concerns about absentee voting – such as ensuring the votes had not been tampered with and confirming the identity of voters – those risks could be mitigated.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said that while Cambodia’s system did pose some difficulty for arranging absentee voting, it was possible to allow citizens overseas to cast their vote at an embassy or consul office.
“We should have 25 ballot boxes, and the people will go and cast a vote at the station where they have registered their name. Then we can add those votes to the stations in Cambodia,” Ponhearith said.