Mohanikay Sect Supreme Buddhist Patriarch Tep Vong said Wednesday that he would rescind his 2003 voting ban and allow Cambodia’s estimated 60,000 monks to vote in elections.
He said his decision followed statements encouraging universal participation in elections by the ruling CPP’s recently renamed and resurrected Solidarity Front for the Development of Cambodia Motherland.
“I am consulting other monk leaders to be able to retract the earlier ban,” Tep Vong said.
“Our monks are able to vote in future elections for the development of the nation,” he said.
Tep Vong said he discouraged monks from voting in the 2003 general election because elections seemed to always end in violence, but that recent stability had allowed him to annul the ban.
Tep Vong’s cabinet chief, Chhoeung Bun Chhea, said monks were given the right to vote again because of the influence of other religions that allow clergy to vote.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay welcomed the decision, saying that the controversial restriction had denied monks a right guaranteed to all Cambodian citizens.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections Director Koul Panha also welcomed the news, but said Tep Vong’s edicts on voting might be motivated by political affiliation.
In the 1980s, Tep Vong was deputy president of the National Assembly, which was controlled by an earlier incarnation of the CPP, and he was deputy chairman of the party’s United Front for Construction and Defense of Kampuchea before entering the monkhood.
In a Wednesday press release, Prime Minister Hun Sen congratulated Tep Vong for being awarded the most revered title of “Samdech Preah Akeah Moha Sangkareachthippadei” by King Norodom Sihamoni on April 29.
Hun Sen also credited Tep Vong with the development of Cambodia’s Buddhist community since the civil war, including the construction of 4,000 pagodas and the ordination of 60,000 monks.
Tep Vong likened the awarding of his new title to the elation felt at the formation of the United Front for National Salvation of Kampuchea, which was formed on Dec 2, 1978, and rallied Khmer support for the Vietnamese army that toppled the Pol Pot regime on Jan 7, 1979.