Motorists will have an easier ride over the next few weeks, as traffic police in Phnom Penh have been ordered to focus on easing the flow of vehicles ahead of the July 28 election rather than fining drivers for traffic violations.
Around the city Thursday, traffic police assumed their new, and novel, role of keeping congestion to a minimum while ignoring the temptation to impose fines—both official and unofficial.
“The top level told us not to fine anyone until the election is completed,” said one traffic police officer stationed near the French Embassy, who declined to reveal his name for fear of repercussions for speaking to reporters.
“They took all the [fine] receipt-books from all the police stands in Phnom Penh” to prevent officers from up writing tickets, the officer said.
“People driving without helmets, driving without wearing seatbelts or driving the wrong direction are not stopped,” said the officer.
“It is not good at all,” he said.
“They want the ballots,” he said, referring to the government.
At a busy intersection near Central Market, one officer was seen directing motorists, but clearly ignoring those traveling in the wrong direction and not wearing safety helmets.
Phnom Penh traffic police chief Heng Chantheary confirmed that his officers are not currently fining errant drivers on the streets, a decision, he said, that was due to the prioritizing of election campaign safety.
Asked if the government had introduced the fine-free driving initiative among the traffic police—who have a notorious reputation for demanding bribes—as a way to win hearts and votes in the city, Mr. Chantheary insisted that was not the case.
“We work for all parties. We are not concerned about the Cambodia People’s Party or the CNRP,” he said, referring to the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Mr. Chantheary, however, added that in lieu of street-side fines, motorists would instead be sent to police headquarters to pay any penalties, but he declined to comment on how police would be able to give tickets to offenders without receipt booklets.
Officers at seven other traffic police outposts around the city also said Thursday that they were told to avoid fining drivers.
An officer stationed near Independence Monument, who also declined to give his name, said that traffic police would begin fining drivers again after the election.
“We were told not to give fines during this one month campaign period. It’s election time, so we will focus more on the traffic flow,” he said.
Another officer, on the corner of Street 154 and Norodom Boulevard, said he too was told not to ticket drivers ahead of election.
“We are only responsible for the campaign and to make sure that traffic is flowing smoothly,” he said.
Asked who had directed the traffic police not to penalize driving offenses, national police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith said he was unaware of any such order.
“Generally, we do not make laws like this as it is against the law,” Lt. Gen. Chantharith said.
“As officers of the law, it is our job to uphold the law,” he said, adding that he did not think that anyone had issued such an order.
Ear Charya, road safety manager for NGO Handicap International, said that such a policy would only serve to encourage reckless driving.
“I have seen teenagers driving with one hand and [the other hand] holding a flag,” he said. “This could cause accidents. We request that the government continues to enforce traffic laws.”
(Additional reporting by Luke Radcliff)