Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak has said an inquiry into 170,000 thumbprints gathered by the CNRP for a petition calling on the king to intervene in the political crisis has uncovered 86 different cases where one thumbprint was placed next to multiple names.
Prime Minister Hun Sen last month ordered the inquiry days after the CNRP submitted the petition to King Norodom Sihamoni calling for his help to end a spate of political repression, with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha currently staying in the party’s headquarters to avoid arrest.
Government officials say they do not believe the CNRP could have collected so many prints so quickly and have accused the opposition party of potentially tricking the king. General Sopheak told the online Fresh News service on Friday that the suspicions appeared to be true.
“Right now, the investigation-and-examination committee for the thumbprints are preparing a special report for the Cambodian government about the irregular thumbprints in the petition of the CNRP,” he said.
“For my own opinion, I suggest that Yem Ponhearith takes responsibility for the irregularities in these thumbprints,” Gen. Sopheak said, referring to the CNRP spokesman and lawmaker who delivered the petition to the Royal Palace.
“One more thing: Yem Ponhearith must take action to find the 86 people who gave duplicate thumbprints,” he added.
“If not, the government will make a report about the irregularities in order to inform the king.”
Mr. Ponhearith could not be reached for comment on the issue on Sunday. His assistant said he was busy with party meetings.
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that it would have been easy for an ill-intentioned person to slip in the fake thumbprints to the petitions while the opposition was collecting them, adding that the CPP was wasting time and should focus on the issues laid out in the petition.
“The collecting of thumbprints is the affair of local CNRP officials, who helped to collect the thumbprints, and it may be that someone did it for personal benefits,” Mr. Chhay said of possible fraud.
“Among more than tens of thousands of thumbprints, there will be mistakes,” he said. “What the government should do is take what the people have prepared and then prepare their answers for the king.”
The CNRP has offered to mobilize the more than 170,000 people who it says endorsed its petition, bringing them to Phnom Penh to prove they support the petition in a mass protest.
The party has also been collecting more thumbprints for a new petition to the king calling for him to help restore the legal immunity meant to protect elected lawmakers. Currently, opposition lawmaker Um Sam An and Senator Hong Sok Hour are in prison, and the CPP has approved Mr. Sokha’s jailing.
Their efforts have been hampered by police across the country arresting, detaining and eventually releasing those collecting thumbprints for the petitions.
On Sunday, Ven Dara, executive director of the CNRP in Pailin province, said that 11 more CNRP activists were arrested Saturday.
“They summoned more than 10 of our activists, including a second deputy commune chief, for questioning and forced them to sign a contract,” Ms. Dara said, explaining that they were detained from 8 a.m. until 11:45 a.m., when she went to the police station.
“They accused our activists of violating the law…and claimed we cannot collect the thumbprints unless we ask for their permission first,” Ms. Dara said.
“Taking actions against my activists is a kind of threat to make people scared to provide their thumbprints.”
Provincial police chief Chea Chandin confirmed he had arrested the 11 but declined to comment further.
In Siem Reap City, the CNRP also gathered on Sunday at the Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm shrine to pray for a brighter political atmosphere in Cambodia before heading to Angkor Wat.
CNRP lawmaker Men Sothavarin said about 1,000 supporters and about 20 CNRP lawmakers had turned out for the ceremony.
Last week, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Mr. Sokha might attend the event, but he instead stayed in the safety of the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh—where he has now been for almost a month. Mr. Sothavarin said other lawmakers stayed with him there.
“We prayed for all Cambodians to unite together, to make peace for the people, for the ruling party leaders and the CNRP leaders to join together to help the people,” he said of the ceremony in Siem Reap.
“We prayed for the holy spirits and the kings’ spirits to make Cambodians talk together, love together, have solidarity and resolve national issues.”