The National Election Committee announced Tuesday that it would “take measures” to halt the broadcast of political attacks through private media, but uncertainty underscored the warning after last week’s discovery that the body had no legal basis to punish offenders.
The deputy director of the NEC, Tuot Lux, appealed to reporters at a news conference for suggestions on how to stop radio stations from reading pointed newspaper editorials over the airwaves.
“The NEC is very concerned, because the election is coming soon,” he said. “The NEC wants to take recommendations from the reporters to solve the media problem.”
“The editorial programs cause serious effect to the people who are attacked and make the voters shocked…. That is why the NEC will take measures to eliminate the programs,” he said.
For stations to comply with the NEC’s most recent request, the committee must first show it can enforce its edicts, said Thai Norak Satia, the director of the Bayon television and radio station.
“I have stopped broadcasting the program two times already, but other [Funcinpec-aligned] stations still broadcast,” he said. “This time, I want the NEC to stop them before I stop my program.”
The NEC largely quieted radio stations last week with a strong-worded ultimatum to media outlets threatening suspension for airing abusive political commentary. NEC officials later learned that the threat overreached their legal powers, and radio and television stations resumed airing the attacks.
Critics said the hollow ultimatum showed the NEC was a “paper tiger,” powerless to affect change in the country’s media, which is widely believed to be controlled by the ruling CPP.
Election law does not allow the NEC to suspend private media, but instead to punish politicians and parties that produce spots attacking other candidates, said Keo Phalla, director of the NEC’s legal service.
In other election news, the Sam Rainsy Party is offering cash rewards to voters with evidence of vote-tampering or fraud in the upcoming elections.
“If one or two or five or 10 of them come to us with certifiable evidence…we will put it to the court system,” said party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang. “And we’ll rely on you guys—the journalists and observers.”
Party officials highlighted a method of fraud they call “tele-vote,” in which a voter takes fake ballots into the polling station and smuggles out real ballots to pass on to conspirators. The party promised a reward of about $25 to voters with evidence they were coerced into joining the scheme.
The party also pledged to counter-pay twice the amount of money offered in any scheme to influence party agents or election officials.
Also, in Kampot province, a Funcinpec official has accused Bun Rany, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen, of distributing gifts through her post as Cambodian Red Cross president.
Neung Sin, director of Funcinpec’s Kompong Trach district committee, filed a complaint on Saturday with the provincial election committee, said provincial committee chairman Te Chinnarith. A hearing will take place this week, he said.
Bun Rany oversaw the distribution of rice and other humanitarian aid in the province last week. The region was badly hit by floods last year.
Te Chinnarith said Bun Rany did not mention the campaign or politics as she distributed the aid. “It doesn’t violate [the election law] at all,” he said.
In an unrelated case, the attorney for two students accused of defaming the pro-CPP Pagoda Boys group met with deputy chief Prosecutor Yet Chakriya in Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Lay Sovan and Ly Setha, who sponsored a petition they said was meant to clarify pagoda students’ opposition to the group, have not yet been charged, said Hong Kim Suom of the Cambodian Defenders Project.
The men say the accusations are designed to dampen their political activity during elections. Lay Sovan is a candidate for the Khmer Front Party, and Ly Setha is a Sam Rainsy Party activist.
Today Sam Rainsy will campaign in Battambang province and CPP President Chea Sim will inaugurate a pagoda in Russei Keo district. No top-ranking Funcinpec officials are scheduled to make public appearances today, a party spokeswoman said.
(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)