CNRP Will Propose Changes to Allow Voting From Abroad

Opposition lawmakers plan to submit proposed amendments to the national election law next week in order to allow Cambodians who work and live outside the country to register and vote from abroad.

CNRP members of Parliament will meet today to discuss the draft amendments, according to senior lawmaker Son Chhay. The move follows a press conference last week during which the National Election Committee (NEC) chairman Sik Bunhok announced the independent election body would not be recommending amendments to the law to facilitate overseas registration and voting.

Polling station workers begin to count votes in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district on June 4. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“We want to amend the law to enable Cambodians overseas…and migrant workers who are working in neighboring countries to have the opportunity to register and vote easier,” Mr. Chhay said on Sunday. Approximately 1.8 million Cambodians live and work overseas, most of them in Thailand and with significant populations in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan as well.

The amendments would allow the NEC to put polling stations on the Cambodian side of the Thai border, as well as enable both registration stations and voting booths to be set up in some Thai provinces where there are large numbers of migrant workers, according to Mr. Chhay.

He added that non-migrant workers, such as embassy staff, would be allowed to vote in the embassy or consulates in their country of residence.

The CNRP has 55 lawmakers in the Assembly and would need 62 votes for the amendments to pass, meaning the opposition would need support from the ruling party to be successful. “We hope CPP lawmakers won’t have a closed mind to fulfill their duty, and ensure the people have the right to vote,” Mr. Chhay said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, however, did not seem interested in the opposition’s proposal.

“They can do whatever they want,” Mr. Eysan said on Sunday, declining to comment further.

Overseas voting has never been attempted during Cambodian elections before. Workers’ rights groups and elections monitors have called on the government to better enfranchise the large number of migrant workers currently living abroad.

“It’s a serious concern,” said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel).

Mr. Panha said that during the creation of the 2014 amendments to the national election law, following the tightly contested 2013 national election, the government raised the issue of technical complexity and cost as reasons to not implement overseas voting, while opposition members claimed the ruling party was dragging its feet because migrant workers tended to support the CNRP.

“For me, I think that maybe both,” Mr. Panha said, adding that while technical expertise and money were concerns, there also appeared to be a lack of political will to solve the issue.

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