Helping disadvantaged Cambodians get ready to vote

Voters verify their names
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE IN DAK DAM COMMUNE IN NORTH-EASTERN MONDUL KIRI PROVINCE VERIFY THEIR NAMES IN THE VOTER'S REGISTRATION LIST FOR THE 2013 NATIONAL ELECTION. (PHOTO: UNDP CAMBODIA)

When Cambodia held local election in June 2012, Bunthoeun Tola, a member of P’nong indigenous group in Mondul Kiri province, was turned away from the polling station. The reason was that his name on the voter list did not match the one on his ID card. He should have checked it beforehand but he did not and, as a result, he was barred from voting.

It was an unpleasant lesson learned which he did not want to repeat. In one rainy morning in September last year, he rushed to Dak Dam commune office to have his misspelled name corrected in preparation for the general election on 28 July 2013.

Highlights

  • The campaign was organized in 17 of the 24 provinces and cities in Cambodia
  • Some 5,694 newly eligible voters are to be added to the 32,237 names already on the list, according to Mondul Kiri provincial election committee.
  • Disadvantaged Cambodians, namely the indigenous people and people with disability are main audiences of the campaigns

“This time everything is in order for me,” Tola, 20, said after having his name fixed.

Early that day he joined 120 other villagers in a meeting with commune and provincial election committee officials to discuss election-related issues. The gathering was part of a voter education campaign, with support from United Nations Development Programme, to raise awareness among indigenous people and people with disability about their right to vote and to increase their participation in the general election. Despite progress in improving opportunities for them, people with disability continue to face challenges in using their potentials to contribute to socio-economic and political development of the country.

The campaign was organized for these groups of citizens in 17 provinces: Kandal, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampot, Svay Rieng, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Stoeung Treng, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Pailin, Battambang and Pursat.

“Every vote counts. It is a sacred opportunity to make one’s voice heard,” said Socheath Heng, manager of UNDP’s Strengthening Democracy Programme that managed the campaign.

“Considering the challenges they still face in their lives, it is important to assist indigenous people and people with disability to be prepared to cast their ballots so that they will not miss this chance to wait for another five years,” he added. 

That message was repeated over and over again by commune and election officials in Mondul Kiri province during their meeting with the villagers, who gathered under a temporary tarpaulin tent in a school’s yard. After the meeting they hurried to the commune office just a cross the red-dirt road. Some crammed at a wooden wall and used their fingers to browse their names on the voter list. Others, first-time eligible voters, lined up at the nearby door with ID cards in hands as they waited to be called in to register. 

When her turn arrived, Poch Trinh, an 18-year-old girl, stepped forward and handed her ID to the clerk. Two minutes later she emerged to the third registered voter in her family beside her father and mother.

“I am both happy and nervous since I never voted before,” she said with a pause before adding “now I am a person who can vote to contribute to progress of the country.”