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As Polls Draw Close, Former Opposition Leader Calls on Garment Workers to Vote

Sam Rainsy, former president of Cambodia National Rescue Party, answers questions during a dinner gathering with Cambodian-Americans at Harvest Moon restaurant, Virginia, Thursday October 6, 2016.

Sam Rainsy says going to the polls will bring positive change in the country, including better working conditions, less corruption and improved public services.

The former leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party has called on garment workers to return to their home communes ahead of local elections early next month.

Sam Rainsy, who led the Cambodia National Rescue Party until he resigned earlier this year after going into exile, said on Tuesday in a video published on Facebook that the government was not doing enough to ensure that garment workers - believed to predominantly support the opposition - would be able to cast their votes.

The comments came after critics warned that unless the government ordered factories to give workers time off to travel to their communes many would not be able to vote on June 4.

“Even though, they [the government] did not facilitate garment factory workers to cast their vote on Sunday, I would like to ask you all to spend your time and money to travel to vote in the election. This sacrifice is very little compared to the benefits you will get when the change in our society take place,” he said.

Election observers and labor rights workers have asked the government to write to employers ordering them to give workers leave to return home to vote.

Labor Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

Last week, the National Election Committee (NEC) wrote to employers asking them to close during the voting period, but Ken Loo, secretary-general of Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, told VOA Khmer that factories would only close if a government order was issued.

“The rest must be decided and considered by each factory.” he said, adding that under the law workers could cast ballots in the communes in which they were residing.

More than 700,000 garment workers from across the country migrate to Phnom Penh to work in factories supplying to major high-street brands. According to the NEC, 7.8 million people, or 85 percent of the electorate, has registered to vote in the elections, which are seen as a litmus test for party support ahead of a general election scheduled for next year.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party and CNRP are the only parties with candidates running in all 1,646 local authorities.

Rainsy said in the video that the participation of garment workers in the election would help bring about positive change in the country, including better working conditions, less corruption and improved public services.

“Only voting will lead us towards our goal of change,” he said. “Gradually, injustice will be replace by justice and poverty will be change to prosperity.”