Despite having enough members to make a significant difference in the next elections, disability rights groups are struggling to get the National Election Committee (NEC) to take their needs seriously ahead of the 2017 commune elections and the 2018 national elections.
“More than 1 million people with disabilities in Cambodia have the right to vote,” said Ngin Saorath, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (CDPO), during a workshop on the rights of people with disabilities on Monday.
“But until now, there is no official record listing people with disabilities… after the recent voter registration test, we found out that not many people with disabilities were registered. This fact makes us worry a lot about our right to vote,” said Mr. Saorath.
He argued that with a population as large as theirs is, there is no reason why politicians should not make every effort to allow them to vote.
People with disabilities struggle with a litany of issues related to being able to vote, including an inability to even get to registration centers, the lack of voter application forms in braille, and a lack of ramps at voting stations.
The CDPO has asked the NEC to create more favorable voting conditions for people with disabilities, but the NEC has said there is no money in its budget for this. NEC spokesman Hang Puthea told Khmer Times: “We are always concerned about people with disabilities. We will do our best to help them vote without any problem.”
The CDPO has asked the government and the NEC to create special ID cards and a database of disabled Cambodians, but Mr. Puthea said it was up to the Interior and Social Affairs ministries to handle such a request.
“If the Ministry of Social Affairs issues a special ID card to people with disabilities… we could register them in a separate database without any problem,” Mr. Puthea said. “But we have to keep in mind that some people with disabilities with high positions in their company or ministry don’t want to tell anybody about their disability.”
Mr. Saorath himself does not have the use of his legs, and said he was worried about being able to register to vote if the voting station is in a building without ramps.
“A blind person may need special tools or assistance to reach a polling station and to read documents, while a wheelchair-bound person may need special transport to reach a polling station,” said Mr. Saorath. “Favorable conditions for people with disabilities are not a kind of charity anymore, it’s the obligation for parties involved. If they don’t want to do that, we will file a complaint to the UN.”