Insult Ban Won’t Affect Free Speech, Parties Say

The electoral reform working groups from the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP resumed talks Monday after canceling their meetings last week, with officials from both parties again defending their controversial push to ban NGOs from “insulting” parties during election campaigns.

Kuoy Bunroeun, the CNRP’s chief negotiator in the talks, said after the meeting at the National Assembly the two groups have drafted 45 articles of the new election law’s chapter on polling, vote counting and collection of election results but are still split on the ban on insults.

“We have not yet reached a joint agreement. It’s the matter of neutrality, the non-bias of civil society during the polling, vote counting and the consolidation of election results,” Mr. Bunroeun said.

“We will try our best to prepare [the draft] to make it perfectly good, allowing the parties observing the election and the election mechanisms to be able to take action and express their opinions in accordance with the spirit of ethics, professionalism and responsibility.”

Mr. Bunroeun said the opposition wanted the ban on “insulting” during campaigns to be interpreted narrowly, with informed and civil criticism of election issues permitted.

“If the NEC takes an incorrect mechanism—for example, voter registration is done incorrectly, or they register those without rights to vote, or register foreigners—then everybody, including civil society, can criticize,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who leads the CPP in the talks, also defended the proposed ban, but appeared to interpret the form it would take more widely.

“Of course they can analyze…[but] they need to think before making an announcement. It means if they see [irregularities] at one polling booth but say it covers the whole nation, they would seem biased like this,” Mr. Chhin said.

“We don’t mean to stop them from speaking,” he added. “But they shall say things that are frank and true, and non-biased. They can issue non-biased statements, but not with an ill-purpose.”

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