CNRP Proposal Seeks to Allow Migrants to Register, Vote Abroad

The CNRP’s detailed proposal to make it easier for migrants to register and vote will be submitted today to the National Assembly, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said.

The draft faces slim chances of clearing Parliament, however, with the CPP majority already planning on voting against a measure they say is unfeasible.

Mr. Chhay said the changes, which were signed by opposition lawmakers on Thursday, add a new chapter with nine articles to the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly.

“We describe using embassies and consulates as registration and voting places for overseas people, and setting up the stations along the border [in Cambodia] for our migrant workers who are working in neighboring countries,” Mr. Chhay said, adding that he believed there were at least 1.5 million eligible voters living outside of the country.

The changes allow the Foreign Affairs Ministry to cooperate with neighboring governments—particularly Thailand, which is home to the vast majority of Cambodian migrants—to negotiate setting up temporary registration and polling stations in provinces that have more Cambodian workers.

It follows repeated petitions by the CNRP to the National Election Committee to enforce similar proposals. The election committee has said the changes are beyond its remit and require new legislation, sparking the proposed amendments to the law.

Mr. Chhay said he was optimistic about the draft law’s odds.

“I think the ruling party may not have any reason to refuse to join us,” he said. “The collaboration with the CPP will eliminate previous suspicions that accuse the CPP of not wanting overseas people to vote.”

But CPP spokesman Suos Yara said that the plan was not practical.

“It is not possible to implement such requests due to a number of legal, technical and financial constraints,” he wrote in a message. “We encourage everyone to register their names at the nearest voter registration offices next to their working places at their convenience.”

“There were many people who successfully did that in the last commune/Sangkat council elections and the turnout rate on the Election Day was very high because of the existing arrangement,” he added. “If the opposition insists on creating polling stations overseas they need to come up with a disposable budget or wait until they get a majority in Parliament.”

Moeun Tola, executive director of the labor rights group Central, said the government could use its limited resources on four countries with large migrant populations supported by an agreement and a local embassy: Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

“It’s not quite practical to ask people to come to vote in the country,” even in neighboring Thailand, he said. “In order to come back to Cambodia, they’re going to spend a lot of money—not less than $100.”

Nor could Central foot their bill, he said.

“We definitely don’t have enough budget,” Mr. Tola said.

Political considerations were sure to doom the CNRP’s effort, according to Sophal Ear, author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy,” who gave “little to zero chance of this passing.”

It was not in the CPP’s interest to allow potentially embittered migrant workers access to the ballot box, he wrote in an email.

“Migrants leave because they cannot find work that pays as much in Cambodia,” he said. “They don’t likely therefore like how things have gone for them” back home.

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