More than 20 monks gathered at a Phnom Penh voter registration station Tuesday morning to demand their Constitutional right to vote.
With Mohanikaya Buddhist sect leader Tep Vong’s edict forbidding monks to cast ballots pasted on a board behind them, Chey Chumneah commune officials eventually granted the monks permission to register.
Due to what officials described as a lack of proper documentation, however, only three of the monks were successfully registered.
“Monks are just normal citizens,” said Svay Ratanak, a monk from nearby Wat Saravoan. “Citizens have the right to vote; monks must be allowed to vote also.”
The scene highlighted what are emerging as two of the registration process’ most controversial issues: The involvement of Cambodia’s Buddhist institution, and the exact documentary requirements for registration.
National Election Committee spokesman Leng Sochea on Tuesday seconded the Chey Chumneah officials’ decision to allow the monks to participate in the election process. “The law doesn’t ban monks from voting. This is a monk’s internal affair; the NEC doesn’t interfere,” he said.
Speaking on the steps of the National Assembly on Tuesday, Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh echoed this view. “I don’t think monks should do politics, but if the Constitution allows them to do so, we should let them vote,” the prince said. “Nobody can stay above the law.”
Tep Vong disagreed. Although the Buddhist elder on Tuesday said he would not be taking measures against the monks who disobeyed his edict, he urged the government to do so.
“Religion belongs to the state. The authorities have to take measures,” he said.
Tep Vong also railed against the Sam Rainsy Party for corrupting Cambodia’s monkhood. “The opposition party is trying to destroy the monk’s holiness by convincing them to vote.
“The party destroys religion,” Tep Vong said.
Also on Tuesday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy returned from Australia to publicize the march his party plans to make to NEC, UN Development Project and European Union offices next Monday. Marchers will demand the NEC improve its policies on voter registration, he said.
Sam Rainsy also voiced confidence over the young generation’s desire for governmental change. “The youth, garment workers, students, jobless, monks, government employees—most of them are unhappy with the government nowadays, so they will vote for a new government,” he said on arrival at Pochentong International Airport.
Meanwhile, reports of irregularities in the registration process continued.
Prince Ranariddh on Monday discussed the need for clearer NEC guidelines on the correct documents needed for election registration.
The prince said people have been turned away from registration stations despite presenting residency books and letters of authorization signed by their commune chief. Administrative quibbles such as missing official codes are being used as excuses to refuse registration, Prince Ranariddh said.
Photocopied identification has also raised problems in the past few days, according to the prince.
“I have contacted the NEC to allow people with photocopied residency books [to register]. The deputy NEC chairman agreed to my request, and said the NEC will issue instructions on Monday,” Prince Ranariddh said. “This is a fact.”
The prince also discussed reports of intimidation over voter identification, where unidentified officials pay door-to-door visits and ask citizens to hand in their voting cards for administrative reasons.
“I don’t know who did this,” the prince said, “But I am calling for an investigation, and when the investigation is done, I will file a complaint. This is an irregularity that used to happen in the past and is happening again.”
Dominic Cardy of the National Democratic Institute on Tuesday said his organization has also observed people without adequate documentation being allowed to register. “Problems interpreting the rules are cutting both ways,” he said.
“I think these problems speak of the need for the NEC to raise awareness among officials and the public about the details of the registration process,” Cardy added.
Reports of violence and harassment also surfaced Tuesday. Hang Dara party member Soun Bun Soy claimed he was beaten in Prey Veng province’s Prey Kandieng commune on Monday after refusing to carry a CPP card.
Prey Veng’s Hang Dara party Chief Kong Vorn described the scene: “Im Mey, a soldier, asked Soun Bun Soy to carry the CPP’s card, but he refused. So Im Mey tied up Soun Bun Soy in his house and beat him until he was unconscious,” he said on Tuesday.
“This is a very cruel and political threat to smaller party members,” Kong Vorn said. “They are trying to stop people joining this party.” District police on Tuesday could not confirm details of the attack.
On Monday, the Sam Rainsy Party reported the harassment and arrest of a party registration observer in Phnom Penh’s Veal Vong commune.
“The commune chief wanted to intimidate [Sam Rainsy Party activist Lim Marong] because he tried to help voters who didn’t have enough documents to register,” Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Mardi Seng said Tuesday.
But Veal Vong Police Chief Prach Sophana denied arresting Lim Marong, saying police received a complaint from commune officials that Lim Marong had been “dragging peoples’ hands” to register.
“The police educated [Lim Marong] not to cause instability,” Prach Sophara said.
(Reporting by, Lor Chandara, Flora Stubbs, Saing Soenthrith and Thet Sambath)