Legislative meeting halls and some government offices are virtually deserted as legislators and top civil servants abandon the capital to campaign, often in flagrant violation of election laws.
“If I do not assist in the campaign, I won’t have a good position in the government,” said one high-ranking civil servant who asked not to be identified. “I will be promoted if I am active, and if I help the party with donations to the campaign. It happens in every place and in most countries.”
However, National Election Committee regulations specify that “civil servants in all areas at all levels…shall [have] a neutral attitude and [be] impartial and shall not use any power or influence, or commit any activity calculated to give support for or undertake an opposition against any political party, candidates or their supporters.”
Nonetheless, the Council of Ministers has canceled its usual Friday meetings. One ministerial employee said his boss was in the provinces “on a government mission,” but said he was also campaigning.
An employee at another ministry said his top minister “suggested” his department’s top officials travel to the minister’s home district to campaign. Almost all of them did, the employee said.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said she stayed in Phnom Penh all week. “I will not go to the provinces to campaign during working hours, because it is against National Election Committee law. I will go to Battambang on Saturday and Sunday to help on the campaign, but I will just be an adviser,” she said. She said she would not be making public appearances for Funcinpec.
Although the Feb 3 elections are for commune council seats, national legislators are also focusing on the campaign. The National Assembly and Senate have both quit meeting.
“There is no quorum, because lawmakers are helping their party members to campaign,” said Senate Secretary-General Um Sarith.
“It won’t affect their work,” said National Assembly Deputy Secretary General Chan Ven. “They are politicians, so they have the right to help their party compete with other parties.”
Prum Nhean Vichet, the NEC’s chief media officer, said campaigning by legislators goes against the spirit of the Constitution. He especially objected to campaigning politicians displaying signs that labeled them as Senators and National Assembly members, on their cars or elsewhere.
“They should take those signs away if they are campaigning,” he said. “It is contrary to the NEC’s law and Constitution.”
The Constitution does not explicitly address the issue of campaigning for a political party. But Article 79 reads: “The National Assembly mandate shall be incompatible with the holding of any active public function and of any membership in other institutions provided for in the Constitution, except when the assembly members are required to serve in the Royal Government.”
Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy Party President Sam Rainsy are traveling throughout the provinces every day until election day. CPP President Chea Sim will remain in Phnom Penh, according to his cabinet officials. Chea Sim is interim head of state while King Norodom Sihanouk is in Beijing for a routine health checkup.
“We have enough people to work for the party on the campaign,” the Chea Sim cabinet official said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is also deputy CPP president, has been attending bridge inauguration, hospital openings and school graduations. His remarks at such events are broadcast on radio or television.
It is too late to do anything about widespread illegal campaigning during this election cycle, Prum Nhean Vichet admitted. “Now it is over,” he said. “It is an experience for us for the next election.”
(Additional reporting by Richard Sine)