Activists say top Cambodian official’s call for smooth election just empty talk

A top Cambodian government minister’s public appeal for a peaceful, inclusive national election was being met with skepticism by election watchdog and opposition party officials.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Sunday said authorities and police forces at all levels should make it easy for all political parties to operate freely as activists begin meeting and organizing in provincial capitals ahead of the July national elections.
“The government has a duty to ensure security, guarantee that all registered parties for election have the opportunity to assemble and have the opportunity to conduct their campaigns in line with their wishes, particularly in line with their political programs to seek popular support,” he said at a fundraising ceremony for the construction of a university in Kandal province.
Opposition party officials, however, say their local offices have been unable to function fully due to continued surveillance by authorities. 
“The order of the Minister of Interior doesn’t seem to have any effectiveness,” Candlelight Party spokesman Kim Sour Phirith told Radio Free Asia on Monday. “I’m not sure if the lower authorities listen to him or they listen to other individuals who have ordered them.”
Threatening gestures and words have been taking place less frequently, but local authorities still take pictures of citizens who go to opposition party meetings, he said. Some people are now afraid to participate in non-ruling party activities, he said.
Violence during 2022 local elections
In the run-up to the June 2022 local commune elections, human rights NGOs reported many cases of violence toward Candlelight Party activists and supporters. Some were beaten up or had stones thrown at their houses. Unidentified men riding motorcycles used iron batons to strike supporters on their heads. No one was prosecuted.
The Interior Ministry oversees public administration and policing down to the provincial and local level. Sar Kheng also serves as deputy prime minister and is a top official in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. 
King Norodom Sihamoni, a constitutional monarch who normally stays out of public debate, issued a message on Feb. 8 calling on all eligible voters to go to the polls for the sake of national development and prosperity. 
The King said no person or political party should have to worry about harassment or intimidation, and people should be allowed to exercise the right to vote in accordance with one"s conscience. 
Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni has called for eligible voters to participate in the upcoming election. Credit: Reuters file photo

For Sar Kheng’s appeal to be effective, officials who violate his order and seek to intimidate opposition party activists must be punished, according to Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, 
“So far, he hasn’t taken legal action against anyone who has done the opposite of his order and instruction,” he said. “Therefore, they [his lower authorities] seem to not care because [they know that] there have been no consequences for the violators of his instruction.”        
Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed.


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