I would like to add a comment to the article titled Voting abroad impossible: PM as published in the Phnom Penh Post on February 17.
At Cambodia’s first ever democratic elections organised by the United Nations in 1993 under the same proportional representation system as today, facilities were given to overseas Cambodians to take part in the vote with the establishment of polling stations at the UN’s offices in New York, Paris, Geneva and Canberra.
As a member of Cambodia’s Supreme National Council presided over by then Prince Norodom Sihanouk, I had discussions with the UN’s top representative Yasushi Akashi about the organisation of those elections.
I did ask him to open more polling stations worldwide, especially in countries and places where there are large Cambodian communities (US, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand).
His reply to my request was that there were limitations in means and time for the UN to set up more registration and polling stations outside Cambodia “but you will be able to do so in the future when your country has embassies and consulates all over the world”.
In the name of the UN, Yasushi Akashi at least asserted the principle that all Cambodians, regardless of where they live, have the right – and should be given the facilities – to vote when it comes to deciding on the fate of their native country.
In his mind and mine, democracy should and would move forward for the Cambodian people. But now in 2016, looking 23 years back, we are saddened to see that democracy in Cambodia has instead moved backward on this point and many others.
It is not a matter of technicalities related to Cambodia’ specific election system as argued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. As the Post rightly pointed out, “a vast string of other countries – including Indonesia and several European nations – operate under the [same] proportional representative system [as Cambodia and] yet extend the right to vote to their citizens abroad”.
As for the determination of constituencies that Cambodian voters abroad would be associated with, our election organisers and decision makers could look at formulas recently adopted by Italy and France. These two countries have designed a number of special constituencies and parliamentary seats to represent their citizens living abroad.
Using similar formulas and based on the average number of voters represented by each National Assembly seat, coupled with the number of potential Cambodian voters living overseas, the following new constituencies could be tentatively created for Cambodia’s future national elections: US with four seats, France with two seats, Australia and Canada with one seat each.
More than creativity, Prime Minister Hun Sen needs to show the political will to make Cambodia’s democracy move forward by first making it more inclusive.
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The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by the Phnom Penh Post.
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