The National Election Committee (NEC) said yesterday it is “impossible” to allow migrant workers in neighbouring Thailand to vote for upcoming elections, citing the lack of a legal framework.
The reaction was made after some political parties members and civil society organisations requested the NEC to facilitate Cambodian migrant workers abroad to have the right to participate in the upcoming commune and national elections in accordance with the Constitution.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central) said yesterday that migrant workers have the right to elect their leaders, citing Article 34 of the Constitution which states all Cambodian shall enjoy the right to vote and to stand as candidates for the elections.
According to Tola, there are between two and three million Cambodian workers who are working abroad, especially in Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. He said the majority of them are in Thailand.
“However, to be sure, I understand that we can try in Thailand first because there are a lot of our people there,” he said. “The government also had some experience in registering our illegal workers to become legal workers when the Thai government allowed it through the establishment of our about 80 Labor Registration Centers there.”
He said there are two ways to provide access for migrant workers to vote. The first is the legislators need to amend the related election laws to allow migrant workers to be registered and then vote at embassies, consulate offices or temporary voting centres set up along the border, especially with Thailand.
He said that secondly, if the amendment of the laws cannot be done on time, Cambodian authorities can cooperate with Thai authorities to allow Cambodian workers who are registered with NEC to return to their home village for a period of time to vote, ensure their wages and other benefits are not cut and waive the re-entry visa fee for them.
Khmer Will Party (KWP) president Kong Monika said yesterday that his party supports the proposal from civil society organisations and other political parties regarding the right to vote for Cambodian workers abroad.
“The Khmer Will Party also wants to see Cambodians living abroad to also be able to vote,” he said.
“However, under the circumstances, I do not believe that the government intends to allow this because the votes of the Cambodian people and workers abroad are more inclined towards non-government parties, which can affect its power,” he said.
Cambodian Reform Party (CRP) vice-president Ou Chanrath said yesterday that he supports the proposal if NEC can set up procedures for migrant workers to participate in the elections.
“We know that it is difficult for the workers to travel to and from the polls,” he said.
Cambodian Youth Party (CYP) president Pich Sros said yesterday that before requesting NEC to do so, the relevant parties need to study the Constitution and other relevant laws.
“If the Constitution does not allow it, we must seek to amend it before submitting the request to the NEC. If they ask NEC to do so without legal procedure, it will cause confrontation,” he added. NEC spokesman Hang Puthea told Khmer Times yesterday that such a proposal is “impossible” to implement because there is no legal procedure to allow Cambodians to vote from abroad.
“The NEC is an institution that must comply with the law, and the law requires that in order to participate in the election, people must be on the voter list and that the polling station must be located in their commune, currently we have a total of 1,652 communes and more than 11,000 polling stations,” he said.
“However, there is no requirement for the NEC to set up polling stations abroad or at embassies,” Puthea added. “If Cambodians work abroad and are on the voter list, they must return to the country to vote.”