CPP, CNRP Plan Large Rallies for Official Campaign Start

Representatives of both the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the ruling CPP said Tuesday that they were planning massive rallies in Phnom Penh for Thursday—when the official campaign period commences—despite a ban on campaigning in large parts of the city.

Ministry of Interior spokes­man Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said that the ministry would enforce the ban on campaigning, which was requested by Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong and effectively prevents political parties from conducting any activities along the city’s main thoroughfares and around many public parks and markets.

“They [City Hall] are right to [request this ban]. We will enforce it to maintain public order,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said.

Nonetheless, the CNRP released maps Tuesday of its plan for a mobile rally on Thursday. The route includes many of the streets and areas where campaigning has been banned, including Sihanouk, Sothearos, Mao Tse Tung and Monivong boulevards as well as areas around Wat Phnom, across from the Cambodiana Hotel and in front of the Royal Palace.

In his request for the ban sent to the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Socheatvong said that it was necessary to ensure security and prevent gridlock in the city during the campaign period.

Kim Sophea, the secretary of the CNRP’s Executive Committee of Phnom Penh, said that despite the ban, the opposition party planned to gather about 200 cars and 1,500 motorbikes for their members to drive around the city on Thursday.

“In addition to [the cars and mo­torbikes] we have been calling other people who support the CNRP to join us. Hundreds have responded and they will use their own vehicles and motorcycles,” he said.

But City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said Tuesday that the municipality has only granted permission for the CNRP to hold a rally in Freedom Park—where the party plans to begin its march in the morning—and would file an immediate complaint if the CNRP moved ahead with their plans.

“The streets they have asked to march on are the spots that we don’t allow [campaigning] because it will cause a traffic jam,” he said.

“We will not position police or armed forces to block the streets but if we see them on the streets we have banned we will report the issue to the Phnom Penh Election Committee to follow up on it,” he said.

For its part, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP is expecting some 20,000 supporters to turn out for a campaign rally on Koh Pich on Thursday, followed by a march through Phnom Penh, said Kep Chuktema, the former governor of Phnom Penh who is now the ruling party’s top candidate for the National Assembly in the city.

“We are putting together a letter to submit to City Hall and the NEC inquiring about available streets in Phnom Penh for conducting an election campaign and showing people the Cambodia People’s Party policies,” he said.

Despite being the seat of government, Phnom Penh has historically been the most challenging constituency for the CPP. The ruling party currently holds seven of the city’s 12 seats in Parliament. In 2003, the CPP won only five seats in Phnom Penh, compared to six for the SRP.

Koul Panha, the executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that the campaigning ban was unprecedented in Phnom Penh and, in combination with unequal access to mass media, presented a serious threat to both a fair campaign environment and freedom of assembly.

“[City Hall] cannot just make a decision to ban like that. The NEC should discuss with political parties and try to find a way to guarantee that election campaign activities can be carried out in a public space and in a free and fair way,” Mr. Panha said, noting that with limited access to television, on-the-ground campaigning was particularly important to the CNRP.

“It is a step back. They [municipal authorities] have always tried to facilitate freedom of political parties [during the campaign period]. They should discuss their decision with other stakeholders [including political parties] or else it is easy to accuse them of political motivation,” he said.

Long Chhenkai, the director of the Phnom Penh Election Committee, said that the ban did not impede on a free and fair election environment, as it applied to both parties equally, and was necessary to allow people in Phnom Penh to go about their lives as usual.

“There is a right to freedom of campaigning, but people and vendors also have a right to go about their daily business,” he said.

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