Rights Groups Rebuke Petitions Endorsing CPP Election Win

Rights groups on Wednesday called on authorities to stop circulating petitions asking people to support preliminary results from last month’s national election showing a win for the ruling CPP and promising not to join any demonstration called by the opposition.

With both the CPP and opposition CNRP claiming victory amid unresolved claims of widespread irregularities and final results still pending, rights groups are accusing authorities of pressuring people into endorsing the petitions and breaching their freedom of expression.

“This act is a new form of intimidation in the aftermath of the July 28 national election and gravely violat[es] the Cambodia[n] National Constitution, particularly on the rights to freedom of expression of the voters,” said the NGOs, which included Adhoc, Licadho and the Community Legal Education Center.

“This act has clearly threatened and breached the rights to confidentiality of voters and this has also intensified tension and potential fear which is currently happening in Cambodia,” the groups added.

Vendors and motorcycle taxi and cyclo drivers around O’Russei market said Wednesday market staff had gone around collecting thumbprints on Monday.

Thou Thol, a cyclo driver who regularly plies the streets around the bustling market, said he was parked outside when security staff approached him.

“He came to ask me to support the results and to not demonstrate,” he said.

Mr. Thol said he did not vote in the election because he could not afford the trip back to Prey Veng province, where he is registered. Had he been able to make the trip, though, he said he would have voted for the CNRP.

“I want to see new policies and new programs,” said Mr. Thol, who also supported the opposition’s plans to demonstrate should the CPP continue to block its call for an independent investigation of the election results.

But Mr. Thol, who cannot read, said he endorsed the petition anyway.

Though the market staff made no specific threats, he said, “I signed it because I was scared.”

When a man drove up to ask reporters what they were doing at the market, Mr. Thol put a finger to his lips in the universal sign to keep quiet and quickly walked off.

That sense of fear was prevalent all around the market.

Motorcycle taxi driver Pao Noy said market staff approached him the same day.

“They said the boss wanted to see me to have my thumbprint to support the election results,” he said. “They did not explain more.”

Mr. Noy said he refused but heard that others around the market who had felt pressured into complying had signed.

“The vendors on the sidewalk have to give their thumbprints; if they don’t give it they won’t be allowed to sell there,” he said.

One vendor, seated next to a tall stack of saffron-colored robes and other religious paraphernalia, said he also declined when asked to go to the market head office to endorse the petition. He refused to give his name or reveal who he voted for.

“I work here so I can’t say anything,” he said. “Those who know what’s right and what’s wrong, they don’t go. The others go to sign.”

O’Russei market director Keang Lak denied pressuring anyone into signing the petition and said the idea came from the vendors themselves.

“We did not get orders from any officials,” he said. “People heard we had a petition to support the results of the election and they volunteered to give their thumb­prints because the election was free and fair. No one was forced.”

Mr. Lak said they had collected about 1,000 names around the market to date and would look for more before handing them over to local broadcasters in the hope that they spread the news. He said other markets around Phnom Penh were doing the same but declined to say which.

NGOs said they heard from people in several other communes around the city also complaining of feeling pressured into endorsing similar petitions, even from some outside of the city.

“Amongst widespread reports of election irregularities, this type of behavior by local authorities—putting words in the mouths of their constituents and coercing them to stand up in support of contested election results—does nothing but add fuel to the fire,” said Ou Virak of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), which issued its own statement rebuking the petitions on Tuesday.

“Citizens have every right to disagree with election results and to support any party they wish,” he added.

CCHR obtained a copy of one such petition from Tuol Kok district.

Besides endorsing preliminary results endorsing the CPP, it rejects any demonstrations to oppose them.

“We absolutely oppose political parties and politicians who appeal for mass demonstrations and who do not recognize the temporary results, which may lead to unrest, chaos, instability and do nothing but destroy the people’s peace,” it reads.

The language closely mirrors the message CPP officials have been delivering since the election.

But senior lawmaker and defacto CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap denied that his party had anything to do with the petitions or even knew about them.

“Our higher officials did not order local officials to collect the thumb­prints. Why would we have to collect thumbprints since we already have 68 seats and the CNRP has only 55?” he said, referring to preliminary results released by the National Election Committee earlier this month.

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