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Garment workers pressured to vote in looming Cambodia elections ថ្ងៃ​ព្រហស្បតិ៍ 5 ខែកក្កដា 2018

Posted by សុភ័ក្ត្រ in អំពីស្រុកខ្មែរ, English.
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Voters apathetic after opposition party outlawed; turnout will hint at legitimacy

PHNOM PENH — With Cambodia’s national elections fast approaching, garment workers who had largely backed the opposition in the last poll say they are being coerced to vote and face hostility if they abstain, as the ruling party tries to paint the ballot as democratic.

Few groups have received Prime Minister Hun Sen’s attention like the 700,000-strong garment sector. Many of these workers voted for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in 2013 and took part in post-election protests that led to the deaths of at least five people when security forces fired into the crowds. The CNRP, the only realistic threat to Hun Sen’s 33-year reign, was outlawed last year.

Now workers in the garment sector say they are being hassled by bosses to cast their votes on July 29 or face consequences. A garment worker who only wanted to be identified as Sreymom on fears for her job said a supervisor warned that factory bosses would check for evidence that staff had voted.

“I heard that we need to show the management team our fingers. If they are not inked, we will face problems,” said Sreymom who voted for CNRP in 2013. “If the management tells us when to leave, I have to obey.”

Despite the dissolution of the CNRP and the imprisonment of its leader, Kem Sokha, on widely discredited claims the party was attempting to wage a U.S.-backed revolution, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has been anxious to present the upcoming election as legitimate.

Fearful of a drastically lower voter turnout in comparison to the last national and community elections, Hun Sen has been making efforts to ensure Cambodians do not pay heed to a “clean fingers” campaign waged by exiled opposition figures calling for the electorate to boycott the vote. One CPP official, Ieng Mouly, has called anyone who refuses to vote a “traitor.” Very few of the roughly 1.5 million Cambodian migrant workers are also expected to return home to vote.

Hun Sen has attempted to win favor with workers since the 2013 ballot with wage hikes, bonuses and free transport. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training last month instructed factories to give workers three days off on full pay to cast their votes.

But it’s not yet clear how many workers will indeed use their holiday to cast their vote for the CPP or one of 19 other minor opposition parties, some of which have been accused of being “puppet parties” of the incumbent.

Sreymom said she would return to her home province of Prey Veng on the Vietnamese border to avoid any repercussions. “I am afraid they will label me as an opposition supporter,” she said. “These days, you don’t want to be outspoken or in the spotlight alone. You need to follow the trend so that you are not targeted.”

Bun Chanda, 30, who earns around $200 a month in a Phnom Penh factory, said the deadly crackdown on post-election protesters in January 2014 had instilled fear among garment workers.

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