By Riri Rafiani, PPUA Penca

In the run-up to the Cambodian commune election on June 3, AGENDA held a two-day training for observers on May 30-31. Jointly organised by Cambodian partners, Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (NICFEC) and Cambodian Disabled People Organization (CDPO), the workshop invited eighty participants, half of whom were persons with disabilities. Clearly enthusiastic, the participants kept the facilitators busy answering their questions.

“I think this training is very good. It tells us what an observer should do during the monitoring,” said Watana, a participant from Takeo Province, who said that it would be the first time for her to participate in election monitoring.

Her enthusiasm was shared by Maichin, who also hails from Takeo Province. Just like Watana, the commune election would be his first opportunity to participate in monitoring activity. He also said that he was eager to take what he learned from this training to the field.

However, according to the participants, the most important issue they learned in the workshop was the disability aspect. “From this training we can see whether NEC [National Election Committee] has made any preparations for voters with disabilities,” said Watana. She also mentioned that the result of the monitoring can be used to draw up recommendations for NEC. “I hope that in the next election, NEC will be better prepared so more persons with disabilities will be able to come and vote,” she added.

Both Watana and Maicin expressed their hope that the Cambodian NEC will take a more active role in increasing participation of persons with disabilities in election. “Most of the time, persons with disabilities, especially those who live far away from the cities, are not well-informed about electoral process. So they couldn’t care less about it and decide not to vote,” said Maicin.

Low self-esteem also plays role in the low turnout of persons with disabilities. According to Watana, “Persons with disabilities are aware of their right to vote, but their low self-esteem holds them back. As a result, they don’t think it is necessary to vote.” This condition was not made better by government inaction. “The government and the election committee did not encourage them enough to go to the polling station and vote,” added Watana.