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Migrant Workers Fear Losing Voting Rights

Mu Sochua, lawmaker from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, talks about the passing of her husband who recently passed away after battling pancreatic cancer and her resiliency at VOA Khmer's headquarter in Washington DC, on Monday, June 6, 2016. (VOA)

The NEC estimates that more than nine million people are eligible to register to vote.

As Cambodia prepares to begin registering voters ahead of local elections next year, concerns are growing among migrant worker communities that they will be excluded from the process.

The National Election Committee (NEC) will start the three-month registration process on September 1 using a new digital system to create a voter list, as agreed on by the country’s two main parties, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party, in 2014.

But opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua called on the government during the Hello VOA radio program on Thursday to do all it could to “ensure that laborers are able to cast their votes in the next election.”

She added that a task force had been established by the CNRP to assist migrant workers to register at provinces near the Thailand-Cambodia border.

Sochua, who will lead the task force, said that its members would travel to Thailand in the near future to meet with migrant workers to explain the procedures.

“I would also like to appeal to lawmakers from another party to work on this, too,” she said, referring to the CPP. “Especially, the Labor Ministry and Cambodian ambassadors should make sure that they find a solution with the countries that are currently employing our people. The government has an obligation to do so in order that people can enjoy their political rights.”

It is estimated that close to one million Cambodians are working both legally and illegally in Thailand. Tens of thousands also work in other countries, such as South Korea.

Ly Rattanak Reaksmey, who manages a security firm with operations in Pattaya, Thailand, said many of his staff wanted to return home in order to be able to register to vote.

Undocumented workers, however, were less enthusiastic about the prospect, he added.

“Between 60 to 70 percent of the Cambodians working in Thailand want the NEC to set up registration stations in Thailand,” Reaksmey said. “If the NEC is able to set up registration or voting stations there, a large number of them would go to register and to vote.”

The new election law does not allow Cambodians working or living permanently overseas to vote.

Seng Sophan, president of the Committee for Election Rights of Overseas Cambodians (CEROC), thinks this should change.

“There are many Cambodians living overseas who have contributed to the development of the nation, economy and society, especially young people,” he said. “All migrant workers in Thailand and South Korea, too, are new forces who are strong mentally and physically who should be allowed to vote.”

The NEC estimates that more than nine million people are eligible to register to vote.