The ruling CPP and opposition CNRP on Friday agreed that civil society groups would be banned from giving media interviews and issuing statements that “insult” political parties or candidates during election campaign periods.
Following a meeting of the bipartisan electoral reform working group at the National Assembly, Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who heads up the CPP’s delegation, told reporters that the ruling party wanted civil society groups to stay away from campaign activities and refrain from showing their support for political parties.
“For the matter of non-governmental organizations and local associations, we want them to be neutral, and [we] don’t want them to have bias toward this party or that party,” he said.
Mr. Chhin said that in the meeting, the CNRP requested that the wording of a provision banning public statements by such groups during election campaigns be amended. He said the opposition asked that “looking down” (on a political party or candidate) be changed to “insulting,” and that the CPP agreed.
Asked what penalties an organization or employee could face if they were found to have insulted a political party or a candidate, and if the rule would also apply during the voting and postelection periods, Mr. Chhin said the two sides had not yet hammered out those details.
“[P]enalties will be stated in the law [saying] that if they violate this article…it sometimes could be just a fine or they could be charged with a penal offense in accordance with the penal code,” he said.
Kuoy Bunroeun, head of the CNRP’s delegation, confirmed that the opposition supported the CPP’s request but said additional wording should be added that ensures civil society groups are not subjected to prosecution over minor offenses.
“We did discuss ensuring their neutrality, but it is also critical that we discuss defining what actions should be subjected to penalties and what shouldn’t,” he said.
Mr. Bunroeun said the two sides had not yet decided whether other activities carried out by civil society groups, such as polling voters and providing transport to party members, would be permitted.
The two sides also agreed that civil servants should be allowed to join election campaigns after work and on weekends. Mr. Bunroeun, however, said the CNRP held that soldiers, police and court officials should be excluded, pointing to Article 15 of the Political Parties Law, which says that these groups, along with religious leaders, must not conduct activities in support of or in opposition to any political party.
The CPP delegation disagreed with this position, which remains a sticking point in the talks, along with the CNRP’s proposal that the deployment of any security forces during the election period should only occur at the request and or approval of the National Election Committee.