According to 2008 consensus, roughly 5 percent of Cambodia’s population of more than 15 million is disabled, according to the United Nations Development Program, 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. Their disabilities have denied them the normal opportunities to live comfortably and improve their lives. Most of them are from poor families and live in rural areas of the country where there are no accessible facilities to assist them.
Although Cambodia’s electoral law grants disabled people the right to vote, several obstacles prevent them from exercising that basic democratic right. 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.
In March 2015, the Cambodian parliament passed two election reform laws to set up an independent National Election Committee (NEC) with nine members and establish rules for elections, including campaigning and voting. 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. 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.
A Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (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.
Almost all women with disabilities encountered barriers to voter registration and election processes such as lack of accessibility, lack of Braille ballots to ensure confidentiality (making a hole is considered impractical), lack of sign language interpreters, absence of mobile ballot boxes, lack of ramps, and poor facilitation at the registration or polling station.
Travel and transportation impose additional financial barriers due to the need to accommodate a support person. Moreover, women with disabilities face gender‐specific barriers in traveling to registration and polling stations, as they need a family member to accompany them while men with disabilities can go with anyone.
Poor access to information was reported especially for rural areas: While information through radio, TV or newspaper is easily accessible in the city, people in the village depend to a great degree on local authorities and the village chief to inform them on the date for registration or voting.
Thus, women with disabilities greatly depend on their level of awareness and attitude towards persons with disabilities. They feel deeply affected by discriminative or unfriendly attitudes and the lack of support some experience in their communes, local authorities/village chiefs discouraging them or even informing them that they are not allowed to register or vote. Lack of required documents presents a key barrier to women with disabilities. The disable sectors also reported problems in obtaining required documents due to discriminative practices and poor knowledge on the rights of persons with disabilities in local authorities, who by consequence deny issuing the required papers.
Low levels of external political efficacy in women with disabilities were cited as an important barrier in remote areas, where women with disabilities often don’t think that elections could bring about any change in their community and their situation. And lastly, women from Phnom Penh highlight the discriminative legal provisions in current election laws against persons with mental and intellectual impairment and the absence of any positive affirmation with regards to persons with disabilities.
Tha Thai, written in English by Roseanna Gerin, Cambodia’s Election Body to Make the Disabled a Priority in Next Elections, Radio Free Asia, September 2015, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/election-body-to-make-the-disabled-a-priority-in-next-elections-08112015151825.html.
Political Participation of Women with Disabilities in Cambodia: Research Report 2010, UNDP, 2010, http://www.sithi.org/admin/upload/media/[2011-02-03]Political/2011_01_24_COMFREL_Study_report_Political_participation_of_women_with_disabilities_in_CambodiaENG.pdf.
The Disabled in Cambodia: Situation of Disabled People in Cambodia, 2015, Phnom Penh Center for Independent Living, http://www.ppcil.org/sample-page/governing-boards/.