Opposition Seeks to Reverse Prohibition of Election Rallies

The opposition CNRP has requested that the national election body help reverse a recent decision to ban election rallies on the capital’s major streets, a party vice president and a spokesman for the National Election Committee (NEC) said on Sunday.

-Commune Elections 2017-

In a letter last month, Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong told the local branch of the NEC to inform political parties of the ban for the two-week campaign period, which begins on Saturday and ends on June 2, two days before the commune elections.

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Supporters during the Cambodia National Rescue Party rally in 2013 on the first day of the national election campaign. (Nicolas Axelrod)

Areas that are off-limits include parks abutting the Royal Palace, Wat Phnom and Independence Monument, and sections of Norodom, Russian, Monivong and Preah Sihanouk boulevards.

The measures were designed to protect “public order” and reduce traffic congestion, City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said last week.

On Sunday, CNRP Vice President Mu Sochua said she met last week with the NEC, which “promised to take it up with the governor.” The ban “is against the election law,” she said. “It is against free and fair elections.”

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea confirmed the meeting, adding that it was now up to the provincial election committee (PEC) in Phnom Penh to decide whether to raise the concerns with the municipality.

“She asked formally in the stakeholder meeting and requested the NEC [have a] discussion with the authority,” Mr. Puthea said. “But by law…the PEC has to make the decision first.”

If the PEC decides to take the matter up with the governor, he added, it may request the NEC for its support.

Mr. Measpheakdey said on Sunday he was not aware of a meeting with the PEC about the CNRP’s request.

Kim Chhorn, senior program coordinator for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said his organization was among 38 NGOs that would meet this week to discuss election issues, including the ban.

“If possible, we will come up with a strategy,” he said.

Political analyst Cham Bunthet said Mr. Socheatvong’s order violated the Constitution.

“There’s no policy—no law—to prevent gatherings or marches. That’s guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.

The ban was “more political than technical,” he added.

“Intentionally, they don’t want a lot of big marches in the city…. It’s an opposition stronghold in Phnom Penh,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Chhorn Phearun)

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