No Votes for Almost 600,000 Cambodians Working Abroad

No Votes for Almost 600,000 Cambodians Working Abroad
BY  AND  | JULY 3, 2013


On July 28, an estimated 9.6 million registered voters are expected to go to the polls in Cambodia. But, with no mechanism in place for absentee voting, almost 600,000 migrant workers currently estimated to live abroad are unlikely to cast their vote, according to election monitors and NGOs that work with migrants.

Those not voting include adult Cambodians, both illegal and legal, who are working in Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, said Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), a legal aid NGO that advocates for migrant rights.

“If they are Khmer citizens, they all have the right to vote,” Mr. Preston said. “The lack of absentee voting, which exists in Thailand and the Philippines, threatens the freedom and fairness of the upcoming election,” he said.

While the Ministry of Labor on Tuesday declined to provide figures for the number of Cambodians working abroad, CLEC estimates that there are more than 500,000 legal and undocumented Cambodians working in Thailand, more than 50,000 in Malaysia and more than 30,000 in South Korea.

“The single most important factor in labor migration is wage. Hundreds of thousands of marginalized Cambodians have left this country for that reason alone,” Mr. Preston said.

Committee for Free and Fair Elections executive director Koul Panha said that Cambodians working abroad contribute greatly to the national economy through remittance, yet they do not have the right to vote.

This disenfranchised bloc of voters should be given a chance to cast their votes, he said.

“They should have a voice because immigration is a major issue and they can push the political parties to change policies for them when [the parties] come into the government,” Mr. Panha said.

According to a report in May by the World Bank and the Inter­national Fund for Agricultural Development, Cambodian migrant workers in 2012 were estimated to have sent home $256 million in remittances.

National Election Committee secretary-general Tep Nytha said that giving the vote to Cambodians overseas “is not a priority issue.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the country could not afford to coordinate absentee voting, and people living in Cambodia were “more important.”

“Local voters are concerned about their lives and the policy has to be designed for locals, not for those who live and work overseas,” he said.

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