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Many Evictees Can't Vote: Monitors

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the second in a two-part series examining the worries of the urban displaced.]

Although politicians and officials say they are seeking votes from the urban displaced, they may face one problem: many displaced are no longer eligible to vote.

As many as 150,000 residents of Phnom Penh could face eviction in the path of development in Phnom Penh. But many of them will not be among the 720,000 voters registered in Phnom Penh.

But the Committee for Free and Fair Elections and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections both say the displacement has put voting out of reach this year for many.

Some who were registered at their old neighborhoods in Phnom Penh have not been able to register in their new locations, officials from both organizations said.

Nevertheless, parties hope they can convince those who do vote that they will act to solve many of the problems the evictees face.

Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Chiem Yeap said his party's candidates will seek to explain to resettled residents reasons they were moved.

"Some people say the rich put pressure on the poor," he told VOA Khmer. "It is not like that. The CPP always wants achievement and winning in a valuable manner, and we want our citizens to understand that and vote for us."

Many forced evictions have led to displaced communities far from the capital and its jobs, schools and infrastructure. Critics say eviction plans rarely compensate people fairly, but city officials maintain the evictees are squatters on state land.

CPP candidates for Phnom Penh will seek to inform potential voters of the party's future measures, to help build houses, roads, schools and hospitals, and provide them with clean water and electricity, Chiem Yeap said.

The displaced could receive help from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which seeks to raise the living conditions in these settlements to the standards enjoyed by city dwellers, Phnom Penh candidate Yim Sovann said.

Lu Laysreng, first deputy president of Funcinpec and Minister of Rural Development, called the urban displaced the patient in the hospital that needed treatment soonest.

No matter the policies, the urban displaced are looking for leadership to bring them out of poverty, voters like Chim Rem, who was ousted from his Sparrow's Nest home on the Tonle Bassac and now lives in a resettlement village 20 kilometers from the capital.

"I will go to vote, to choose the prime minister, so that he sees all kinds of people and knows someone who has difficulty or lives under suppression," he said.