Cambodia’s top election body will take legal action against groups that conduct or publish opinion polls in the two weeks leading up to June 4 commune elections, its spokesman said on Sunday, warning that the surveys could lead to “social instability.”
The ban on surveys will begin on May 20 and continue through the vote, according to National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Hang Puthea, who likened the surveys to a “bad trick.”
“If anyone tries to do a bad trick, the NEC will absolutely not let that happen before the election,” he said on Sunday. “If you do not implement the NEC’s instruction, we will check the law or any electoral provisions and then take legal action.”
Mr. Puthea’s comments followed a March 24 article published on local news website VOD Hot News citing a Facebook post by Yoeurng Sotheara, the law and monitoring officer at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel).
Mr. Sotheara claimed he had seen the results of a new poll of residents living in more than 1,000 communes conducted by an international NGO, which he declined to name, that predicted the opposition party would win at least 60 percent of commune council seats up for grabs.
Mr. Sotheara and other Comfrel staff could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
But Mr. Puthea said on Sunday the NEC is the only body that is both independent and authorized to release election results, adding that voters would get confused if other organizations put out polling data ahead of election day.
“Any survey that is unlike the results released by the NEC will cause social instability,” he said.
Mr. Puthea justified the ban by saying opinion polls would threaten the NEC’s mandate to organize credible, democratic elections.
“So the NEC will take action against whoever affects free and fair elections,” he warned.
Neither the commune election law nor the laws governing the NEC appear to mention pre-election polling. Article 72 of the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly requires that “all surveys and dissemination of the survey findings related to the election shall come to an end 7 (seven) days before the polling day.”
In the run-up to the 2013 national election, the Information Ministry issued guidelines forbidding foreign media from broadcasting the results of surveys for the five days leading up to election day.
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of civil society group the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said his group had worked with organizations conducting surveys in the past, but would sit out the latest vote.
“We don’t want any problems with the NEC,” he said.
Mr. Kuntheamy said he thought the ban against surveys was misguided, however.
“In many democratic countries, they find it useful to conduct voter election surveys,” he said.
“The NEC should open its mind and [be more] transparent.”