The National Election Committee on Thursday ordered the Sam Rainsy Party to stop audio broadcasts and leaflet distributions encouraging citizens to register to vote, saying the messages constituted illegal campaign activity, NEC Secretary General Tep Nitha said.
While the opposition party claimed that its truck-mounted megaphones and thin leaflets were aimed only at educating potential voters, the materials were actually veiled attempts to garner votes, Tep Nitha said.
The dispute highlights a contentious issue in the run-up to the July 27 general elections. The NEC has not yet drawn up guidelines for what does and does not constitute “campaigning,” so parties don’t know how far they can go in organizing their voter base before the official 30-day campaign period begins in late June.
Election observers say such guidelines are a crucial task for this NEC—which thus far has been cautiously praised for its apparently good-faith efforts to create a fair election environment.
The previous NEC, which oversaw last year’s commune elections, was harshly criticized for defining “campaigning” so generally that political parties were completely prevented from preparing for the election.
In its pre-election monitoring report released last week, the National Democratic Institute urged the NEC to clarify this matter.
“It is unclear what constitutes legal and illegal political activities outside of [the 30-day campaign period],” the report states.
“For example, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated in a speech last April…that he ‘promised to restore all roads built before Cambodia was engulfed in civil war if he is re-elected prime minister next year.’ If such a statement is allowable, then all political parties should be able to make similar pleas for votes at any time outside of the official campaign period,” the report states.
The NEC has ordered the Sam Rainsy Party to stop its disseminations and distribute NEC-created materials instead, the committee said in a statement. Election observers as well as opposition activists said the party should have been allowed to continue its activities and accused the NEC of political bias.