Government Warns Local Officials Against Campaigning on the Job

Commune and village officials may campaign for the June 4 commune elections, but should not use their office to curry favor with voters, according to a joint directive issued on Tuesday by the Interior Ministry and National Election Committee (NEC).

—Commune Elections 2017—

Signed by Interior Minister Sar Kheng and NEC President Sik Bunhok, the directive instructs commune councilors and chiefs to continue their administrative duties during the two week campaign period leading up to the vote.

Leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, left, waves to supporters during the CNRP rally on the first day of the national election campaign while Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, cheers supporters just before the CPP’s opening ceremony Thursday on Koh Pich. (Thomas Cristofoletti and Nicolas Axelrod.)

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said that there had been reports in the past of local officials using their authority to rally votes, but said his focus was on an upcoming election overseen by a bipartisan NEC.

“The new NEC has the point of view and belief that [reforms] will reduce irregularities that we heard in the previous election,” he said. “Authorities will follow the directive better than the previous elections and the NEC will also not tolerate any individual that violates the election law.”

Chiefs and their deputies were told to request time off from work to campaign so that local administrative work continues uninterrupted, the directive says. Village chiefs and other local civil servants may also campaign, but should also request time off so they are seen as individuals rather than in an official capacity.

The ruling party has long been accused by the opposition of using small handouts as well as intimidation by local officials to drum up votes.

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said he had not seen the directive, but supported any government attempt to remind local authorities to carry out their campaigning independent of their work.

“Some officers, commune chiefs, commune clerks, deputy commune chiefs or village chiefs did not stay neutral and showed political prejudice,” he said, adding that he had not heard of any officials being punished.

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