Some Election First-Timers Say They Care, but Haven’t Registered

Young voters spoke to reporters ahead of Sunday's election. (VOD)

Toun Sreypov, a second-year student at the Royal University in Phnom Penh, says she regrets that she will miss out on voting on Sunday.

“The commune election is really important for me and other people so we can choose the right leader, so we can have improvements,” Sreypov said. “I want to join the election too because I want to experience the process of the election.”

But the 20-year-old said she had not been able to find time to go home to Siem Reap province to register in her commune. “I’m disappointed that I’m going to miss the commune election,” she said.

Sreypov was still in high school the last time the country held an election in 2018. Since that time, the number of eligible voters 18 years or older has increased by more than 550,000, according to NEC data. Registrations appear to have largely kept apace, but potential first-time and other young voters held mixed views about the vote.

Heng Mengly, a 21-year-old food delivery driver, said he hadn’t registered and hadn’t heard any information about the election except for seeing some street campaigning by the ruling CPP and opposition Candlelight.

“I know there will be an election. However, I don’t know what the election is because I’ve never voted,” Mengly said.

Lim Sreynoch, an 18-year-old from Takeo who was selling coffee in Phnom Penh last week, said she didn’t even have an ID card yet. She said she hadn’t realized there was a commune election coming up and was curious about the recent noise on the streets.

“I didn’t know,” she said. “I was also wondering.”

Ngorn Channy is already 22 years old, and also did not participate in 2018 because she felt it was too complicated to register to vote. Now she had moved from Oddar Meanchey to Phnom Penh to study food science. She only visited home only on holidays and weekends when the commune office was closed and didn’t have the chance to register in time, she said.

“I want to see what the election and the experience is like — if it is the same as what I have studied. I have learned about the election in class. I’m curious if it is free and transparent or not,” Channy said.

She added that she wanted the provision of public services improved, and that the candidate was more important than their party.

“I saw that when I went home and did paperwork it took a long time, and sometimes the commune chief doesn’t stay at the office during the working hours. And sometimes the paperwork needs money. So I want to remove all kinds of bribes.”

Nevertheless, others, like Poeung Vikpi, 20, from Preah Vihear; Kosal Piseth, 23, in Battambang; and Heng Long, 25, from Battambang said they were registered to participate on Sunday.

Vikpi, who now studies sociology in Phnom Penh, said he would go home to Preah Vihear on Friday to vote for the first time. But the party he wanted to vote for wasn’t even contesting the election this time, he said.

“I have a person I like, but he doesn’t participate. But I still want to show my will to another party because I have to get experience voting,” Vikpi said.

Piseth, 23, said there were six parties running in his Battambang commune, and he had already made his decision.

“I look at the party’s policy, the attitude and the passion of who stands as candidate,” he said.

The sitting commune chief had filled a stream and sold public property, Piseth said, and was only building roads as the election approached to curry favor. “It’s the same strategy,” he said.

“The village and commune levels are very important, because they live with the people,” he added. “If we choose the wrong person who works only for their group, it will be a chaotic term. But choosing the right person who will work for the people can give an advantage for all. We should think carefully. Don’t look only at the party while overlooking the person’s attitude.”

Long, 25, said it would be his second election on Sunday after he voted in 2018. But he wasn’t sure where polling places were this time, and hadn’t received any information about candidates.

“I will go if they invite me to go, but it is silent for now,” he said.

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