Concerned that the country’s powerful village chiefs have not remained neutral, the National Election Committee warned on Thursday that village leaders must not engage in political intimidation, confiscation of voter cards or any act aimed at influencing voters in the July 27 poll.
Warning of possible sanctions by the Interior Ministry, village chiefs and their deputies were ordered to “remain neutral and impartial and refrain form showing any preference for or against any political party or candidate,” the NEC said in a statement.
“The NEC formally enjoins the chiefs of villages, their deputy and members to respect the instruction of the Ministry of Interior and the NEC,” the carefully-worded statement added.
Hand-picked by the Interior Ministry, Cambodia’s tightly woven web of village chiefs are almost entirely loyal to the ruling CPP and are considered one of the least neutral elements of provincial administration.
Around a dozen election monitoring groups and opposition parties claimed last month that the chiefs were behind most of the vote buying and intimidation that has marred previous elections.
The Interior Ministry said it would be impossible to remove the chiefs before Election Day.
A coalition of monitoring groups issued a statement on Thursday voicing concern at acts of intimidation carried out by provincial election committees against Committee for Free and Fair Elections monitors who were conducting research on the political neutrality of provincial staff.
The monitors’ joint statement followed an NEC directive ordering provincial and commune election committees to prevent the Comfrel monitors from gathering information on the political allegiance of their workers.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said questions posed by Comfrel monitors related to the political leanings of the provincial and commune election committees “abused” citizens’ confidentiality rights. Comfrel monitors had asked provincial staff to fill out forms resembling “curriculum vitae,” Tep Nitha charged.
“Those activities …[are not] the duty and rights of the election monitors and affect the neutrality of the election authorities,” Tep Nitha wrote in a letter to Comfrel and Adhoc on Tuesday.
The NEC directive resulted in the provincial panel threatening to arrest Comfrel monitors in Kratie province and the confiscation of Comfrel documents by the panel in Svay Rieng province, the joint statement claimed.
“Civil society would like to urge the election authorities to immediately stop their negative actions toward the monitors,” the statement said.
On Friday the NEC also announced it had legal provisions to enforce its media code of conduct for the election campaign.
“Before the NEC was confused that we do not have the power to control the private media,” NEC Deputy Secretary-General Tout Lux said. “If those private stations still ignore and do not obey…we will punish them before the election.”
Comfrel Media Monitoring Officer Mar Sophal said on Friday that radio stations Ta Prohm FM 90.5, FM 93.5 and FM 90 contravened NEC rules by broadcasting too much coverage of Funcinpec.
The pro-CPP Apsara TV, TV3, Bayon radio and television stations were also in violation by broadcasting editorial programs containing scathing attacks on Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh. The CPP stations were also carrying comedy stories attacking the prince and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, he said.
(Additional Reporting Kevin Doyle)