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The following article from the Phnom Penh Post chronicles the experiences of 200 Cambodians with disabilities who monitored July 27 elections under a program developed by the International Foundation for Election Systems, and funded as part of an IFES agreement with the Swedish International Development COoperation Agency (Sida). The article can be found at, and appeared in Volune 12, Issue 16, August 1-14, 2003.

Posters: Cambodia

Historic first for Disability

It was one of the least-known aspects of the election, but no less historic for that: among those employed to observe the ballot were 200 disabled people, a first for Cambodia. In a country with one of the highest rates of disability-and a poor attitude towards it-using disabled people in such a key role was, say the organizers, a deliberate tactic.

Another reason was to promote the participation of all people in elections, and to ensure that people with disabilities were involved. All went on a course to train them how to evaluate whether the vote was conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.

Srey Vanthon, the director of Action on Disability and Development (ADD), told the Post on July 18 that most would be placed in Kampong Speu province.

" We will have 169 observers in Kampong Speu, another 14 in Kampong Chhnang, and 11 in Phnom Penh's Stung Meanchey district. There are also six mobile observers," he said. "And 57 of the total number are women."

Vanthon said the participants in the project, which began on May 1 and will end in August, were approved by the National Election Committee for observer status on July 3.

"The staff are all disabled volunteers. We are not concerned about the extent of their disability, as long as they have volunteered to do the job," he said. "For example, if someone is blind he will be accompanied by another disabled person who will write down everything the blind person hears on voting day."

The head of the National Center for Disabled People (NCDP) said the occasion was an important one for disabled Cambodians. As citizens, said Yi Veasna, they were entitled to take part in every aspect of the election, including standing as candidates.

"The number of disabled people is actually higher than the reported statistic of 2.2 percent," said Veasna. "But even if we use that statistic, it makes 275,000 people which equates to seven parliamentary seats."

ADD department head Hoy Sochivanny told the Post on July 29 that all indications were that the observers had worked hard and done a good job.

"Our figures show that on election day, around 80 percent of the disabled voters who came to the stations were helped by our volunteers," she said. "We are discussing setting up this project for the village chief elections, which may take place in 2004, and of course for the next national election [in 2008]."

Fifty-six-year-old Vong Saveun from Kampong Speu was scheduled to observe in Tompor Tep commune in his home province. Saveun, who lost his leg to a landmine, wanted to ensure fair treatment for disabled voters.

"I struggle for equality. As a disabled person I can say we always suffer from discrimination in our community," he said. "This job is not difficult for me, because the organization allocated our responsibilities based on our capabilities."

Koul Panha, the president of Comfrel, the country's largest election monitoring organization, welcomed the participation of the disabled observers, and said it would provide a good example to other people.

"The attitudes of disabled people towards the election process is different from that of able-bodied people, in the same way that men and women differ over certain issues," he said. "I support the participation of more disabled people, because the process of observing doesn't just end when the new government is formed."

ADD's Vanthon said the organizers were optimistic the venture would have long-lasting benefits.

"We have high hopes that our observers will uncover all the obstacles that deter other disabled people from participating fully in the election and exercising their rights as citizens," he said. "More than that, we hope that their actions will ensure that all lawmakers and policymakers take more interest in disabled people."


"Promoting disabled people’s role in the Cambodian National Election"
A report from Action on Disability and Development, Cambodia

SUBGRANT No 5031-100-0303

August 25, 2003


ADD Action on Disability and Development
DPO Disabled People's Organization
PWD People with Disabilities
IFES International Foundation for Election Systems
NEC National Election Committee
PEC Provincial Election Committee
CEC Commune Election Committee


Action on Disability and Development on behalf of Disabled People's Federation in Kampong Speu, is extremely grateful to numerous disabled individuals under Skous, Svaykravan and Vorsar of Kampong Speu, Peany commune of Kampong Tralach district of Kampong Chhnang, and Stung Meanchey of Capital city Phnom Penh, who contributed to the success of this campaign.

First and- most importantly- we extend our heartfelt appreciation to all of the supporters such as

- The National Election Committee (NEC)

- Committee for free and fair election (Comfrel)

- The Provincial and Commune Election Committees (PEC and CEC)

who were resources for disabled observers, in terms of training and participating to meetings.

Additional thanks must be offered to Disability Action Council (DAC), National Center for Disabled People (NCDP), Cambodian Disabled People's Organization (CDPO) and other Disabled People's Organizations (DPOs) who provides moral and practical support to the campaign.

Special thanks we give to Jerry Mindes of the International Foundation for Election Systems for technical and financial support.

Moreover we must also be complemented to ADD UK Frome Office for effective facilitation for funding from IFES and for management.

We are very grateful to the management and ADD Cambodia Team for their hard work in supporting 200 disable to be able to fulfill their tasks.

Help disabled people so that they can help themselves!

27 JULY 2003

Promoting disabled people’s role in the
Cambodian National Election



"… this event should be a historical event for people with disabilities and
the disability sector in our country, and it is really one of the efforts in
promoting empowerment and rights of people with disabilities in Cambodia."

Uk Sisovann, Executive Director of the Cambodian Disability Advisory Committee (DAC)


"… as people with disabilities, we see our needs and interests are as follows:
- Most people with disabilities are poor, so we want to see a practical solution to solve this problem"

- People with disabilities are seen as the group of victims which is ignored by the society, but we need a life with equal status with prosperity in the community.

- Disabled people want and support the formulation of management structures, proper legislation and effective courts to ensure a justice and equality society.

Yi Veasna, Executive Director of National Committee of Disabled Persons (NCDP).


"… We used to hear people with disabilities complain that they could not access the election registration station that was at the upper floor of the building. We contacted the NEC to solve this problem. So far, we seemed to overlook that people with disabilities have barriers for free and confidential vote. I strongly support with the involvement of people with disabilities into the election monitoring process

Kol Panha, Executive Director of Comfrel.


"… I support the idea of ballot guide for blind people voting. But it is too late for us to produce this. We promise to make it happen in the next election. "

HE Im Suosdey, Chairman of National Election Committee (NEC)


" When disabled people are involved in the election process, they feel confident talking about disability rights. More over they can see lot of things need to be done to promote disability rights within the country."

Srey Vanthon, ADD Country Representative.


Two hundred disabled citizens have observed the main process of the election – voting and counting. They are from 149 Self-Help Groups (SHG): 137 SHGs are in Kampong Speu, 9 SHGs in Kampong Chhnang and 3 more SHGs in Stung Meanchey, Phnom Penh.

Findings of the observers with disabilities include:

- 30.65% of eligible voters with disabilities experiences barriers to voting;

- 37.47% of observed polling stations were difficult to access by electors with disabilities;

- In many places, even on the ground floor, there was a step that was 0.5 meter high before reaching the voting area;

- Door-ways to many voting rooms were inaccessible – too narrow -- for wheelchairs; and

- Families of disabled people did not encourage them to register to vote.

In general, people with disabilities feel they have no freedom or right to go anywhere alone without assistance. They can't escape from their duty as house watching. As a result, most people with disabilities have no relation to the election process.

The selection of the polling station and the arrangement within the polling station did not at all address the concerns of people with disabilities. On voting day, many people with disabilities found it difficult to find their names in the list, and many people who came for voting did not give priority to allow people with disabilities to vote first.

We expect this report will assist the National Election Committee to work to more fully integrate people with disabilities the future elections.


For many years people with disabilities, especially disabled women and children, have been marginalized and ignored and quietly excluded from the mainstream society.

In Cambodia, as well in much of the rest of the world, government cannot with confidence guarantee that disabled citizen have equal rights and opportunities. In Cambodia, people with disabilities do not participate in the election process on an equal basis with non-disabled people. Disabled children have little access to education (primary and secondary). Disabled people do not have equal treatment for job employment, cannot access public transport and they are most often dependent upon others for their welfare.

Promoting Disabled People's Role within the National Election" is a campaign for the rightful inclusion of people with disabilities in society. The campaign was initiated by a federation of people with disabilities in the province of Kampong Seu, under the director of their own representative leader.

ADD has provided technical support to the federation to assist in the implementation of this initiative.

IFES, with funds from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, has provided technical and financial support to the campaign, which enable disabled people organizations to achieve it's objective – to build self-respect and confidence for disabled people to demonstrate their capacity to implement election monitoring activities.
The Election Monitoring project has trained 200 people with disabilities to monitor the election process and to evaluate whether it is fair, confidential and transparent.


200 people with different types of disabilities became Election Observers in the National Election. They are from 140 self-help groups (137 in Kampong Speu, in Kampong Chhnang and 3 in Stung Meanchey of Phnom Penh city).

Disability data (in the area of observation only)

Under 18 years old
From 18 up
19.20% of the total number
80.80% of the total number
62.43% of children
37.57% of children
57.17% of adult
42.83% of adult
11.99% of the total number
7.22% of the total number
46.19% of the total number
34.60% of the total number


Different types of impairments among the observers:

81.82% of physical impairment
4.20% of hearing impairment
3.75% of hearing-speaking impairment
2.67% mental health
1.76% visual impairment

Causes of disabilities among the 200 observers:

41.16% caused by illness and health problems
29.04% caused by various types of accident.
17.26% caused from birth
8.08% caused by war and arm conflicts
4.44% cause by mines


Observers in Kampong Speu were 169 (49 women), in Kampong Tralach were 14 (2 women) and in Phnom Penh were 11 (3 women). The uniform was as following:

- yellow T-shirt with the word "Observer" in the back and “federation” in the front, IFES/ Sida and ADD logos are on the arms of the T-shirt.

- White cap with the word "Observer".

- Observer tag authorized by NEC worn around the neck.



• To build self-esteem and confidence among disabled people in implementing activities that led to an inclusive environment.
• To demonstrate to community members that people they call disabled have the capacity and abilities to contribute to the society and community they are living in.


1) To raise people’s awareness of disability as human rights, social and development issue by using disabled people’s participation in the national election process to change community perspectives on disability.

2) To promote electoral access for people with disabilities.

3) To contribute to the organizational strengthening of Disabled People's Organizations (DPO).

4) To promote people participation’s and strengthen democracy in Cambodia.

EXPECTATIONS (At the Beginning of the Project)

• A preliminary seminar, between ADD and the federation of disabled people, held to follow-up the election observation effort and to inform the whole concept of the project.

• 180 disabled election observers (people with all types of impairments) identified and recognized by the National Election Committee (NEC).

• Four similar training workshops on the national election and the task of the election observer conducted. The first objective of the training involves preparing the participants to serve as fully accredited election observers, and includes a thorough review of electoral law/regulations and practice, and the role and responsibilities of the electoral observer. The second objective is to prepare the participants to view the election through a "Disability Lens", so as to assess the extent to which citizens with disabilities voted, and the manner in which they voted. The third objective is to share tools and strategies that might needed for observers with disabilities.

• Links made between federations of disabled people, the National Election Committee and other NGOs that promote democracy and human rights.

• Strengthened networks with Commune Election Committees and local authorities (district, commune and village).

• 180 disability observers deployed in 2 provinces (Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang), in 5 districts in 15 communes.

• National TV and newspaper coverage of disability observers.

• Evaluation workshop to evaluate the effectiveness of the project, review the activities and plan for further advocacy activities.


Outcomes of the election monitoring project will be disseminated widely and will be integrated to the strategic plan of NEC. This effort can be input for strengthen disability movement in the country through an effective representative DPO.


Step One:

1. Meeting with federation commune workers and leaders to consult the Central Idea of the project.

2. Meeting with the head of NEC to present the aim and objective of the project.

3. Disseminate information about disable observers among Disabled People's Organizations.

4. Observation team organizing

5. Registration of disabled observers with NEC

6. Cooperate with NEC and Comfrel to create training opportunities to disable observers and to produce posters.

7. Produce procedures for disabled observers.

8. Training disabled observer on how to monitor the election process and assign them to specific polling stations.

9. Cooperate with CEC to distribute "Observation Card" to observers.

Step Two:

- Disseminate information on integration of disabled people into the election process through distribution of posters in villages and in local newspapers.

- Organize Launching Seminar to announce disabled observers.

- Monitor the Election activities on the 27th July 2003.

Step Three:

- Evaluation of the Election Monitoring

- Disseminate the Report



Disable observers are recognized by the NEC through its authorization letters No. 07-1361/03, 06-1295/03 and 07-1371/03.

Four Disable were absent because they were sick and the total number of the observers was only 196. Among 196 observers, there are 141 men and 53 women. There were 6 Mobile Observers (4 men and 2 women).

 Observers Men Women Total 
Kampong Speu province
Kampong Chhnang province
Phnom Penh

- There were 136 people with physical impairment

- There were 40 short sighted: 25 men and 15 women

- There were 7 people with hearing and speaking impairment.

- There were 5 (totally) blind: 3 men and 2 women.

- There were 2 people with mental health problem


In reality, people with disabilities Cambodia are marginalized. An environment of discrimination has made people with disabilities hopeless.

At the first time of our discussion, some people with disabilities declared that they could not do this job of monitoring elections. But after the first workshop (30 April 2003) was conducted, those attitudes changes. They demonstrated that they feel confident to be part of the election process and volunteered to do the job. But they still were concerned of their capacity to observe, and worried about discrimination. These concerns and worries were discussed in full during the workshop.


Federation leaders had conducted several meeting with personnel from Comfrel and NEC to produce the voter education poster. The team agreed to produce 2 posters.
The first poster informed the public that disabled voters have the right to stand in front of the queue and vote first. The second poster reinforced the provision in election law that states that blind people have the right to choose their own assistant when voting.

10,000 copies of posters have been printed and distributed to all different institutions:

Distributed to
Number of copies
NGOs in Cambodia
Disability Action Council
DPOs and PEC
Display in the meeting and workshop


On the 3rd July 2003, a Training of Trainer Sessions was conducted for 35 commune workers from Federations and from Disabled Women Forum. The training was conducted by Mr. Chin Sarin, National Election Committee, and Mr Prum Bun Thoeun, Comfrel. The following sessions had been given to participants:

- Election Regulation
- Observer's code of conduct
- Monitoring technique
- How to fill the questionnaire (forms)


Five trainings had been conducted at the same time in difference places, from 14 to 17 July 2003.

1- Leng Yon, Muongh Chenda and Long Savy with 8 commune workers have lead training in Vor Sar commune to 48 participants.

2- Sin Nget and 4 commune workers had trained 30 disabled observers in Svaykravan commune.

3- Prum Sam Oeun, assisted by 7 commune worker had trained 57 observers in Skous.

4- On the 14th, Suos Vansitha and Nuon Huoch, assisted by Nuon Mony Roth, trained 11 observers in Phnom Penh.

5- On the 15th, Nuon Huch and Suos Vansitha had trained 14 observers in Kampong Chhnang.


The Action on Disability and Development, in cooperation with the National Television (TVK), will produce a twelve-minute video on disabled observers as an historical event in the country.
The video tells people about the importance of the involvement of disabled people in the national election process. The document records practical experience to demonstrate the capacity of disabled people. It is produced in both languages – Khmer and English -- and it is broadcasted through local TV – governmental and private.


Information about disabled observers was broadcast (live) through on radio. Five speakers were invited to the studio for a roundtable discussion of the problems faced by voters with disabilities and the importance of participation of disabled persons in the national Election. The discussion was re-played in the evening time of the same day.

A French TV programme "Rendez-Vous" produced a segment on disabled observers. The magazine was broadcast in Khmer and in French. Moreover, news on observers with disabilities was broadcast by other national and private TV stations, including TV Channel 5, Channel 3, CTN, Apsara and TVK.

Daily newspapers also published articles, including one in the Phnom Penh Post under the title: Historic first for disability


The following information covers only the area of monitoring:

Immediate reasons are seen as obstacles for disabled people participating to the national election:

- They face difficulties during the Registration Time. Some of Registration Office were at the upper floor and non-accessible for PWDs.

- During the voting day, some disabled people could not find their names on the voter list. (Most Cambodians with disabilities are illiterate. Also, there is often a considerable distance between polling stations – at times 2 to 3 kilometers – making it difficult for voters with physical disabilities.)

- Without a mobile voting system, some disabled voters cannot vote at all.

Strategic reasons are also as obstacle for PWDs participating in the elections:

- Less encouragement and facilitation from the family;

- Many disabled people have no experience going out alone, so without family support, do not register to vote.


Generally, the NEC/PEC have selected the following places for polling station:

1- School ( plain square and class-room)
2- Temple (plain square and eating house).
3- Public square in villages or public building
4- Ground floor under a private house in the village.

As result, we have found that:

- 58 % of the total polling stations observed were accessible for wheelchair users and other disabled people;

- 42 % were not accessible for wheelchair users.

- 37 % had steps, which prevent disabled people reaching the polling site.

- 7.5 % had a ramp at the entrance.


37 % were not accessible for wheelchair users. To reach the voting booth, people had to climb a step that was 0.5 meter high. In addition, the entry way to the voting booth was too narrow for a wheelchair to pass through..

The arrangement of 11.53% of polling stations created a concern for confidentiality, as they were set up in an open area on the ground floor of a private house.


95% of polling stations observed started at 7.00 as planned..

98 % of the polling stations observed showed the empty ballot box to the observers.

42 % of polling stations observed allowed blind people to select their own assistant.



Disabled Observers are happy that they have participated in the National Election process. It is very encouraging for them, because before they felt ignored and isolated from society.

- As a person with disability I am very happy that I have today been an election observer. This is the first time in my life that I can demonstrate my capacity, involvement and contribution to the society. I had never dreamed about this before. (Tep Keun, Tun Loap village).

- I feel that is a dream! Now I feel that people with disabilities are not lonely anymore. (Mao Sokun, Kraing Svay village)

- Now I understand and believe that I can do this job of being an election observers. (Poul mao, totally blind from Kraing Ta-Ek village)

In general, villagers and local authorities accepted that people with disabilities did a good job.

- They are so serious and worked very hard. I could not believe that people with disabilities can observe the election like this. (Bun Thoeun villager in Ang Ve)

- They have developed good working process. (Election Officer in Kraing Ampil)

- Before I could see only NICFIC and COMFREL observe the election. Now we have disabled observer. It is very interesting to see disabled people with a uniform participating in the election monitoring process. (Commune authorities in Kraing Ampil)

- This year Disabled People are the most famous in our area! (Young people in Daun Ath village)


From our working experience, we see that is not easy to influence people to accept Disability as a human and social rights issue, because society has thought that Disability is sin, or the object fo charity. This attitude has led to the exclusion of disabled people from mainstream society, and the denial to them of opportunities for full participation.

Although disabled observers are trying to counter these attitudes, they are still faced with discrimination:

- Why disable people do this job? They are making trouble for us. (One observer from one political party)

- Why do disable people come to vote? They should stay at home! (Chuon Veng – villager)

- How can people with both eyes blind observe the election? (A policeman in Phum Kork village)

- Why do they come to observe the election? They can't even walk properly like us. (Villager in Kampong Speu)

- Why do disabled people have priority to vote first? They should join queue! (Villager in Phum Pring village)

- I don't understand that blind people need to vote! It is no benefit at all. (Villager in Phum Phneay village)

- Oh dear, it is strange to see disabled people come here! (Villager in Phum Beeng)

- Commune authority in Srong said: Why do you carry a useless arm with you? You should cut it off.

- Hey the man with no-blood leg (wooden artificial leg), why are you here? (One observer from political party in Trapeang Ol polling station)

- In Vath Ta Phem polling station, a 30 years old man had pushed a disabled woman away and said: Hey polio! Why are you here?

- You can't see anything, why are you trying to do this job? (Election Committee leader in Phum Tros polling station)

- Some villager in Phun Steung had repeated the way that disabled people walk and they laugh.


Observers with disabilities have concluded that the Election Process in Cambodia is a good process, with high responsibility and ownership which make the process transparent, and free and fair for Cambodian voters. We expect that the winners will form new National Assembly and from new government, that ensure equal rights, freedom and opportunities among disabled and non-disabled citizen.

The Election Monitoring Activities have strengthened the advocating experience among disabled people. As a result, we will initiate future advocacy plans to raise awareness as well as to influence the government to become more responsive to the needs of disabled citizens. Disability Forums between disabled citizens and government ministries will be the first new initiative.



- The new Government should promote disability rights opportunities by ending various levels of discrimination – attitudinal, environmental and institutional.

- The Ministry of Education should adopt Sign Language and include sign language into the national educational curriculum. We also recommend the Ministry of Information to disseminate information with sign language.

- The government should encourage disabled people to become candidates for national office by amending the election law to allow people with no party affiliation to run for national office.

- The parliament should review laws and withdraw all discriminatory statements against people with disabilities.

- We recommend that government and other institutions create opportunities for disabled people to become part of the development process and development programmes.


- Disability awareness raising training should be provided to all election officials;

- The NEC should initiate the use of a "ballot guide" for blind voters, so that they can practice the right of voting in secret.


- We recommend NGOs working in HIV/AIDS, action against women and child trafficking and domestic violent to include people with hearing and speaking impairments into their target beneficiaries/ partners.

- We recommend all NGOs working in rural development support the formulation of disable people self-help groups so that they can work towards the elimination of discrimination, which isolates people with disabilities, a key strategy of poverty alleviation.

- In the name of 190 disabled observers, we suggest ADD to continue to support the development of disability movement in the country through promoting the equal rights of disabled people.

- On behalf of the disabled observers, we would like to express our grateful thanks to ADD, IFES, NEC, Comfrel for their effective support.

Reported by
SREY Vanthon
ADD Country Representative
P.O. Box 1123, Phnom Penh. Cambodia
E-mail Address:
Telephone/ Fax: 855-23-216-917
Mobile phone: 855-12- 803-394

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