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PM: Vote Near Your Work

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Factory workers like these women will no longer have to travel to their hometowns to register to vote. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that citizens working far from their homes can register to vote near their places of employment, a change that could save many citizens from a lengthy and costly trip to their home province.
At a ceremony commemorating a new bridge in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district, Mr. Hun Sen told the crowd that voter registration, which will start on September 1 and last until November 29, will be held in every province, allowing people to register anywhere through the new digital voter system.
“Nieces and nephews who were not clear about this the last time now can know. The workers at the golf club where I play were not clear about it either. They asked me whether or not they can register to vote near their workplace. Previously, they went to register in their hometown,” he said.
“Now they can register where they work. This is an easy one. Last time, they registered at their hometown and they came to work in Phnom Penh and had to go back to their hometown for the election, but from now on, they do not need to go to register in their hometown. If they work in Phnom Penh, they can register at that place,” he added.
“But they must to have Khmer identification cards.”
The premier said Cambodians had to take time to register for the next elections on June 4, 2017, and July 29, 2018, because the right to vote was a special one that must be exercised.
“I want all of our citizens to register in order to use their right to vote for any party which they prefer. I am calling on our citizens to use the three months of enrollment time. We have enough time,” he said, adding that he wanted monks to participate in the election as well.
Much has been made over the inability of the government to register most monks for the next election, with Venerable But Buntenh, leader of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, suggesting it was bad karma to deprive monks of their constitutional right to vote.
“If the Ministry of Interior refuses to issue new identification cards to the country’s estimated 50,000 monks so that they can vote in the next election, monks will find other ways to make their voices heard in the electoral process,” he said earlier this year.
Cambodia has a fraught history when it comes to allowing monks to participate in the voting process. Now bureaucratic hurdles such as
the need for identifiable hair to obtain a government ID card, which are themselves required for voters in the country, stand in their way. The National Election Committee (NEC) has said monks can use birth certificates or family books if necessary.
But some have said the statement from Mr. Hun Sen is aimed at the opposition, which last week asked for voter registration to be held over the Pchum Ben holiday, celebrated on September 30 this year.
Sam Rainsy Party senator Teav Vannol said last Monday that the opposition wanted the voter drive to be extended over the holiday because many migrant workers make an effort to come back to Cambodia during that time.
The opposition has repeatedly said it must be a priority that expatriate Cambodians scattered across the world are given the opportunity to vote, either at embassies or when they return to the Kingdom.
But the government, citing the costs, said it would be impossible to register every Cambodian living abroad and refused to consider the idea.
Some within the opposition say the government’s refusal is rooted in the fact that most Cambodians living abroad are to varying degrees supporters of the opposition.
The NEC said it would consider allowing voters to register during Pchum Ben, but has shot down any attempts to coerce the government into allowing expatriate Cambodians the chance to vote at their nearest Cambodian embassy, something many other countries do.
Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union Confederation (NTUC), said yesterday that the prime minister’s announcement was good news because workers would not have to spend as much money going back to the hometown to register as they had to do in the last election.
“I think it’s good news for workers and also for those who work far from their hometowns. I think factory owners have to allow them to take a day off so that they can do this too,” he said.
He continued to push for the government to make voting available to Cambodians living abroad.  
Last month, the NEC announced the date of voter registration, which will take place every day during the three-month period in every commune hall as well as some villages.
According to estimates by the NEC, there were 15,721,366 Cambodians living in the Kingdom, 1,991,025 of whom do not yet have government IDs, which are needed to vote. The NEC said there are 22,337 voter registration stations.

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