Young indigenous and disabled people gear up for election in Cambodia

 Indigenous people verify their names on a voter list in Mondul Kiri province, Cambodia. Photo: UNDP/Alejandro Boza
Indigenous people verify their names on a voter list in Mondul Kiri province, Cambodia. Photo: UNDP/Alejandro Boza

When local elections were held in the province of Mondulkiri, eastern Cambodia, Bunthoeun Tola, a 20-year-old indigenous person and first-time voter, was turned away at the polling station because his name on the voter list did not match with his identification card.

“It was spelled incorrectly and because of that I was barred from voting,” Tola says. “Now I want to make sure I can vote in the coming general elections,” scheduled for July 2013.

Highlights

  • Two out of three people in Cambodia are under 25 and persons with disabilities are estimated to represent 4% of the population.
  • The civic voter and education campaign aims to reach 3 million young voters over a 4-year period.
  • Some 5,694 newly eligible voters' names are to be added to the 32,237 names already on the Mondulkiri province’s registered voter list.

The elections will decide a new Government to run Cambodia for the next five years. Across the country, officials have begun verifying voters’ lists and registering new voters, including young people who are turning 18. Nationwide, there were more than 9 million people registered for the last election and that number is expected to climb.

As part of its work to promote democratic governance in Cambodia , the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has teamed up with two Cambodian non-governmental organizations across 17 provinces to administer a series of voter education activities.

The campaign works specifically with marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities and the indigenous, by raising their awareness about the importance of elections and  by highlighting the need for them to exercise their democratic right to vote.

Since 2008, the Cambodian Disabled Peoples Organization has been at the forefront of this initiative, beginning with the introduction of a nationwide braille-like system for the visually-impaired that allowed them to vote in the elections that year.  But with a new election looming on the horizon, Heng Chantey, a campaigner for the organization, says there is no time to waste.
“We are encouraging people with disabilities to go and verify their names and register to vote,”she says. “This way, they can demonstrate that, despite their disability, they have the same rights as others do.”

In the commune of Dak Dam in Mondulkiri, misspelling of names was the dominant question at a recent gathering  with commune and provincial election committee officials to discuss election-related issues.

The commune’s chief, Som Vanny, reminded people of the need to verify their names during the registration process before it was too late. “This is an important part in exercising your right to choose your representatives,” he told the villagers.

Some 5,694 newly eligible voters are to be added to the 32,237 names already on the province’s registered voter list, according to Mondulkiri’s provincial election committee.

As the meeting wrapped up, villagers crowded into the commune office and used their fingers to scan for their names on the voter list. At a nearby door, young people lined up with identification cards in their hands as they waited for the commune clerk to call them in.

“This time everything is in order for me,” Tola says as the commune clerk hands back his identification after correcting his name on the list. “Now I can vote to contribute to progress of the country.”