Regardless of what religious leaders tell them, monks have the right to vote in Sunday’s commune council elections and should do so, political leaders say.
On Jan 10, Tep Vong, supreme patriarch of the Mohanikay sect of Buddhism, told monks they were barred from voting. Political leaders Monday called that a “serious mistake,” saying it violated government policy and the constitutional rights of monks.
“The Constitution says people have the right to vote,” said Eng Chhay Eang, secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party. “It does not say that monks can be barred from voting.”
He said if institutions don’t want monks to vote, they should draft a law to that effect and send it to the National Assembly for debate. He noted that during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era, monks and soldiers were barred from voting, but no longer.
Serey Kosal, Funcinpec deputy secretary-general, said that according to the law, monks and soldiers have the same right to vote as other citizens. “I would appeal to monks to actively join the election to choose new leaders,” Serey Kosal said.
Prum Nhean Vichet, National Election Commission media officer, confirmed that no law bars monks from voting.
Koy Sumedh, a monk at Wat Ounalom, said monks are part of civil society as well as the religious world. “I have the right to choose a leader because I am a citizen,” he said. “I do not choose a commune [candidate] to support any political party, but to choose a good leader to lead people and develop the commune.”
He noted that in Sri Lanka, monks are members of Parliament, advisers to the government and head hospitals. “We should evolve like that, not take only the old stance,” he said.
During the voter registration period last year, some monks said they were not planning to vote because in 1998 they were beaten during post-election protests. Their activism then drew criticism from some Cambodians, who felt spiritual leaders should not get involved in politics.