The government on Wednesday denied allegations made in a statement released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday that senior members of the police and military were creating an intimidating atmosphere for voters by campaigning for the ruling CPP.
The HRW statement named Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun, his deputy, Hing Bunhieng, Joint General Staff Chairman Kun Kim and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, as having campaigned for the CPP in May and June.
But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said there was nothing untoward about their behavior as the officials in question were not representing state institutions while they campaigned and were dressed in civilian clothes.
“This is a propaganda piece against the government and against the nation of Cambodia,” Mr. Siphan said. “It’s very biased and a campaign against us is not fair. You understand they are not in their uniform to run the campaign; they went in their own personal private capacities, asking to leave their posts…. They don’t wear uniforms and titles to earn votes from people.
“These are the people who fought in the battlefields against the Pol Pot regime, where they liberated Cambodia from the Pol Pot regime,” he added.
Article 15 of the Law on Political Parties states that “religious priests, members of the judiciary, members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and National Police Forces may join as members of political parties, but they must not conduct any activity for supporting or opposing any political party.”
Military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said that the law does not prevent such officials from making their political affiliations known when they are off-duty.
“They have the right to be in favor of one party, but they cannot use their position when they campaign or support a party. Government officials can campaign when they are off-duty,” Brig. Gen. Tito said.
National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nytha also said that he had “clarified this so many times, that officials could campaign while they are off-duty.”
Still, Koul Panha, executive director for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said there could be no ambiguity with regard to how the law is interpreted.
“The Political Party Law clearly prohibits them from conducting political activity to support one or the other,” he said.
“They have the right to be a member of the party or they can be in the audience, but they cannot carry out election campaign. Military officials are supposed to safeguard security for all political parties. How can they make sure people trust them and have security for all [if they campaign]?”