Cambodia’s military has been more involved in this year’s election campaign than previous years, which officials say threatens the democratic nature of the upcoming vote on July 27.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, held a press conference Wednesday where he reported 35 cases of interference by RCAF and local authorities on behalf of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP since the monthlong election campaign period kicked off June 26.
Koul Panha did not have numbers from the 2003 national election with which to make a direct comparison, but he said that Comfrel has observed that this a marked increase from 2003.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc and Comfrel chairman, said RCAF needed to be neutral during the campaign to ensure they do not sway voters.
“Armed forces have a lot of influence on society, so it could cause injustice,” he said, adding that he feared incidents, like those reported by SRP Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua, could lead to violence.
Mu Sochua reported being physically harassed by San Sman, a CPP military official in Kampot province, on Monday morning after she tried to stop a vehicle she said bore RCAF plates and was being used to campaign for the CPP, which is against election law.
Mu Sochua said San Sman grabbed her arm to wrench her away from the front of his car. No contact information for San Sman could be obtained, but Ho Dara, Kampot’s deputy police chief, confirmed that both parties had filed lawsuits against each other.
Tep Nytha, secretary-general for the National Election Committee, said Wednesday he has not received any reports from commune-level election monitors about an increase in the military’s involvement in the campaign.
According to the election law, Tep Nytha said, RCAF officials can join the campaign outside of working hours so long as they don’t wear their uniforms.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said the military’s involvement would keep elections from being “free and fair.”
“What we are trying to do is prevent the election from being too unfair,” he said, adding that he thought recent land disputes between villagers and members of the armed forces were causing the military to be more present during this campaign.
Tuor Bin, SRP chief of Kompong Speu province’s Phnom Sruoch district, said Tuesday that RCAF deputy commander of Brigade 31, Monh Chhun Dy, had been trying to lure him to join the CPP.
“They said ‘Brother, come to join us,’ and they promised me rank of major or colonel as well as $4,000 or $5,000,” he said.
Contacted by telephone, Monh Chhun Dy confirmed that he had contacted Tuor Bin, but said he did so prior to the campaign period.
“Since before the campaign started and outside of working hours, I called and talked with his wife by phone,” Monh Chhun Dy said.
“I said if he wants to come over, he can,” he said, adding that he never offered Tuor Bin a military rank.