National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Monday that CPP officials in Siem Reap province have not violated the election law by asking villagers to swear an oath of loyalty, which demands divine retribution and death if they do not vote for the ruling party in 2008.
Dozens of villagers in Varin district’s Svay Sor commune swore on their families’ lives last week that they would vote for the CPP in the 2008 national elections, according to villagers and a rights worker.
“What [the commune chief] has done is not wrong because he did not force people to swear,” Tep Nytha said. “Now it is not election time, and every political party has the right to…allow its members to take an oath,” he said.
An investigator for local rights group Adhoc said last week that at night, CPP commune chief Traing Chhoeurn had pressured groups of 10 to 20 villagers to take the pre-election oath by swearing over a glass of water containing a Buddha statue and then drinking from the water.
Traing Chhoeurn, who organized the oath-taking, said the oath was voluntary but promised to stop the practice when contacted Monday. Traing Chhoeurn said that he was surprised to hear criticism of the oath-taking from local organizations and said that he would hold a small Buddhist ceremony on Wednesday to retract the oath for all the villagers who had taken it.
“It is our tradition to hold a ceremony to retract this oath, and I will apologize to the villagers who have taken this holy water,” he said. “I will promise that we will not do it again.” Traing Chhoeurn added that his CPP district supervisor had ordered him to stop the oath-taking because of the criticism it had provoked.
Mar Sophal, monitoring coordinator for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said he suspects that the CPP official had violated commune laws, as well as electoral law. “Local officials have to be neutral in performing their tasks,” he said.
Mar Sophal added that Comfrel is submitting a letter of complaint to the provincial governor and will file a complaint to the Interior Ministry if his researchers conclude that the officials have broken commune laws.