Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday ordered a special, nationwide investigation to root out any faked thumbprints on a petition the CNRP has handed the king for help in settling the current political standoff.
The CNRP is boycotting parliament in protest over the recent legal action against its lawmakers and submitted a petition to the Royal Palace on Monday asking King Norodom Sihamoni to intervene, along with a purported 200,000 thumbprints from supporters.
In a letter to Mr. Kheng the next day, the Council of Ministers put the number of thumbprints at 173,144 and asked the interior minister “to conduct the most thorough research to avoid the use of thumbprints to cheat the people and especially the king.”
On Thursday, Mr. Kheng took up the call, ordering the creation of an ad hoc committee with National Police chief Neth Savoeun as chairman to parse the thumbprints for any evidence of fraud.
“The committee will work to examine the thumbprints on the petition from the CNRP to directly search for people who gave the thumbprints, use other means to authenticate the thumbprints, and make a report to the interior minister for a decision,” the order says.
It gives the committee the prerogative to set up subcommittees in Phnom Penh and in each province to help carry out the work.
Mr. Kheng also names three top National Police officials as deputy chairmen and makes every provincial police chief a member.
Spokesmen for the Interior Ministry and the National Police could not be reached for comment.
Allegations of fraud first emerged with the release of a short video on Tuesday by the government-aligned Fresh News service, showing a woman urging people to write in multiple names on a petition bearing pre-existing thumbprints. An accompanying article said opposition officials could face criminal charges over the making of a fake document.
The CNRP has stood staunchly by the petition.
“We did not forge it,” opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said on Thursday. “If the authorities want to see the truth, we will invite [the petitioners] because the [CNRP] lawmakers in their provinces know which people gave thumbprints.”
“If they find someone on the document with a thumbprint that’s suspicious, we can invite them to show up and clarify.”
Mr. Chhay said he was surprised by the zeal with which the government was probing this particular petition, as the CNRP had handed the king others without incident.
“The problem surrounding the thumbprints is strange because we have never seen this before,” he said.
On Wednesday, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Sou Phirin, who signed the letter asking the Interior Ministry to investigate the petition, said the probe was King Sihamoni’s idea.
He said the king had put the request in writing in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen. But Mr. Phirin refused to share a copy of the king’s purported letter, and the Royal Palace could not be reached.
The king has strictly avoided the political arena and made no public statement about the petition. He departed for China on Thursday morning for a three-day visit during which he is scheduled to meet with President Xi Jinping.