Despite instructions from religious leaders to remain politically neutral, many monks will go ahead and cast their ballots in the July 27 national election.
One Phnom Penh monk who declined to be identified said he will vote in spite of Mohanikaya Buddhist sect Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong’s order that monks abstain from the political process.
“I am only following the Constitution,” the monk said. “I will follow the chief monk’s advice if it is the right advice, but if it is not right, I will not.”
Tep Vong has repeatedly said that monks must remain neutral, and he issued a decree last year declaring Cambodian Buddhism incompatible with voting.
However, in February, King Norodom Sihanouk stated that he supported monks’ right to vote.
Minister of Cults and Religion Chea Savoeun said Thursday that monks have the right to vote, as do all citizens. “I informed Tep Vong about this issue and said that if you don’t want monks to vote, you should draft a law saying so and send it to the government for the National Assembly’s approval.
Another monk from Phnom Penh’s Wat Lanka, who also requested anonymity, said he cannot vote because the National Election Committee did not issue voting cards to monks in his pagoda.
“Now I have no right to vote,” the monk said. “I don’t know who to follow, because the law does not prohibit [monks from voting], but Tep Vong said monks should not join the election.”
Kong Hem Rinsey, a monk from Wat Botum was also unfazed by the decree. “I want to fulfill my duty as a Cambodian citizen…everyone has equal rights [to vote].”
Still, some monks will follow Tep Vong’s decree.
Lim Bunly, from Wat Ounalom, said he supports the political process, but as a monk he wants to remain neutral. “Politicians are playing among themselves. When they need the ballot they raise both their hands to implore us to vote for them but when they get it, they don’t need us any more,” he said.