Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) will make the disabled a top priority in political participation and include related policy in the country’s new election law to ensure them equality in the next nationwide elections, an agency official said.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the independent body that oversees Cambodia’s elections would reach out to the disabled who live in remote areas of the country to ensure they have an equal opportunity to vote in the 2018 general elections.
In March, the Cambodian parliament passed two election reform laws to set up an independent NEC with nine members and establish rules for elections, including campaigning and voting.
“Handicapped people have been made a top priority for voter registration and polling stations,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “Although the registration [process] for the voter list has not yet started to address the issue of disabled people, the NEC will provide information to polling stations about how to handle them.”
Disabled Cambodians need strong support from the government as well as other political parties, he said.
Ngin Saoroth, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (CDPO), said he strongly supports the NEC’s efforts to promote the rights of disabled people, but remains skeptical until he sees such a policy in practice.
“The promise is not like the actual practice,” he said. “What the [NEC] has promised is good, but I don’t know what level of this promise it will achieve. We will wait and see.”
On Monday, the CDPO made suggestions to the NEC to help facilitate greater access to voter registration for the disabled at a workshop in the capital Phnom Penh during which they discussed the results of a four-month study conducted by the CDPO, The Phnom Penh Post reported.
Ngin Saoroth said he would lobby the NEC to add provisions for the disabled in the country’s new election law to politically empower all such people.
“We encourage NEC to work with disabled people’s representatives because they know about disabled issues, so they can help them out,” he said. “We are not helping any political parties, but we aim to help promote disable people’s rights in order to promote human rights, political rights and democracy in Cambodia.”
Roughly 5 percent of Cambodia’s population of more than 15 million is disabled, according to the United Nations Development Programme, although the Cambodian government’s official figure is 2.3 percent.
Many Cambodians have become disabled after falling victim to landmines and unexploded ordnance from decades of war, disease, malnutrition, accidents or unsafe health practices.
Although Cambodia’s electoral law grants disabled people the right to vote, several obstacles prevent them from exercising that basic democratic right.
A CDPO report on election access for people with disabilities issued in April 2013 found that the disabled were excluded from the political process because of a lack of information on elections, inaccessible polling stations, and a lack of support from their families or authorities.
More than 2,000 disabled people had participated in Cambodia’s 2013 elections, according to the CDPO report, and at least 30,000 disabled were expected to vote in the 2018 elections.
Cambodia adopted the Law on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, which ensures that the disabled have equal rights to vote and can run as candidates. It also prohibits discrimination against candidates with disabilities.
In December 2012, Cambodia ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which recognizes the rights of the disabled to participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others and obliges signatories to provide facilities that make elections accessible.
Reported by Tha Thai for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.