Khmer Times/Taing Vida Wednesday, 11 January 2017 1216 views

Push to allow monks to vote

The Minister of Cults and Religion has agreed to review laws governing the issuance of identification cards to monks which, in its current state, limits their right to vote.

After answering questions at the National Assembly’s seventh commission, minister Him Chhem said they will be working on the various issues raised, including the development of the National Buddhist Institution, the expansion of the Buddhist University and the wages of monks.

“We understand each other [in the meeting]. I have my report. We will solve the remaining problems gradually. We have measures to solve it,” he briefly said to reporters yesterday without elaborating on any of the issues raised in the assembly.

Yem Ponhearith, the chairman of the seventh National Assembly commission, said he accepted the responses delivered by the minister and understood the challenges faced by the ministry, specifically regarding the limbo many monks now live in without the right to vote.

“Before, the monks could use monk identification cards in voter registration,” he said.

“But the current electoral law requires them to have national identification, so we need to change the laws. The minister said he will review and resolve the issue.”

Cambodia has a fraught history when it comes to allowing monks to participate in the voter registration process.

Now, bureaucratic hurdles such as the need for identifiable hair to obtain a government ID card, which is a requirement for voters in the country, stands in their way.

One recently proposed stand-in for an ID card is a birth certificate plus some sort of documentation regarding the monk’s status.

Such an accommodation could break new ground in the decades-long struggle over equal voting rights for the group. Those in the monkhood were granted suffrage by the government in 1993.

However, solutions are still being informally discussed and no decisions regarding new voter-registration practices have yet been made.

According to Mr. Chhem, there are about 64,000 monks in Cambodia, a number that is steadily increasing.

Mr. Chhem also said that the ministry will be moved to a place next to the National Buddhist Institute by the end of 2018, with the cost of construction to be charged to the state’s budget and paid in stages.

The current building will be used to expand the Sihanouk Reach Buddhist University.

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