Rights Groups Upset by Top Monk’s Edict

Until Mohanikaya sect leader Tep Vong officially retracts his edict urging monks not to participate in July’s general election, many monks—especially those based in rural areas—will be afraid to cast their votes, rights groups claim.

Both the Khmer Institute for Democracy and the Center for Human Rights, groups which this week condemned the outspoken Buddhist elder’s prohibition, have asked him to withdraw it.

Keat Sukun, director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said Tuesday that the institute sent a letter to Tep Vong on Jan 24 asking him to give back his official blessing to monks want­ing to vote.

If Tep Vong does not issue another directive, the Ministry of Cults and Religion should make a statement officially announcing the monks’ right to vote, Keat Su­kun said.

But Minister for Cults and Reli­gion Chea Savoeun refused Tues­day to act on the demand to is­sue a counter-directive to Tep Vong’s.

“I won’t ban monks from voting but I won’t issue a directive asking monks to vote, because if I do that I will oppose Supreme Tep Vong,” Chea Savoeun said.

Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, took a more direct ap­proach. “I will meet with the top monk and educate him about the rights of people; maybe he doesn’t understand about monks’ rights,” Kem Sokha said.

Despite recent pleas for a peace­ful pre-election season, Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking at a bridge opening ceremony in Kompong Cham on Wednes­­day, issued an aggressive warning to his opponents.

“They do not do anything,” Hun Sen said. “They just wait for the result…. They only promise.”

Also on Wednesday, National Election Committee spokesman Leng Sochea said registration is now going “smoothly”; there have been some technical problems, he conceded, “but the NEC has solved them already.”

Some 300,000 new voters have registered since registration opened Jan 17, Leng Sochea said.

In a list of recommendations sent to the NEC, Kem Sokha said he complained about the poor standard of voter education, saying in areas where few people are literate, the written educational material provided was ineffectual.

Television and radio stations have not broadcast enough information on the subject, Kem Sokha added.

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, on Wednesday called a public forum in Siem Reap, at which politicians and members of the public gathered to discuss the issues they feel are most in need of addressing.

At least 100 people came to the forum, from provinces around the north of Cambodia.

“Political parties should not only think about bilateral parties or the democratic process, but should try to solve the people’s crisis,” Chea Vannath said.

“These people want the new election to solve their problems,” she said.



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