Chhay Channyda and David Boyle
The Phnom Penh Post
Officials legally obligated to not engage in political campaigning violated election regulations 200 times in a period of just under four months ending January 31, election monitoring group Comfrel alleges in a report released yesterday.
Civil servants, police and military officials were found to have systematically violated the regulations, generally to the benefit of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, while state property had also been misused for political advantage.
Though current legal provisions strictly prohibit state officials from party activities, “this practice is actively supported and encouraged by CPP in order to sustain and strengthen its political support”, the report found.
It listed and dated incidents where high-ranking officials that included provincial and district governors, heads of government departments, court officials and senior military and police personnel had allegedly engaged in prohibited political activities.
Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said yesterday that he hoped the findings would raise awareness about the legal provisions related to political activities that officials are obligated to follow.
“[I want to] increase public awareness about that and among the civil servants, military and police. They should understand they are breaking the law, because sometimes they don’t understand,” he said.
Many of these officials simply believed it was their duty to campaign on behalf of the CPP, without realising this was illegal, Koul Panha said.
He added it was hard to know to what extent other parties might have benefited, because those supporting the CPP were the only ones that violated the election laws blatantly in this way.
The Comfrel report, which also found that access to broadcast media was dominated by the CPP, contains a number of errors identifying the positions of people alleged to have violated Cambodian laws governing political conduct.
Two-star police general Suon Phalla, director of the police professionalism school at the Police Academy of Cambodia and one of the officials accused in the report, denied that meeting CPP members before an election campaign was illegal.
“[Comfrel’s] accusation is not right. Besides, I use my weekends, not working days to do political campaigns, and it’s not violating laws, there is no law to ban me,” he said, adding he did not use his title when campaigning.
Comfrel does concede in the report that the 2012 National Election Committee regulation on Commune Council Elections contains a contradictory clause that allows officials to campaign outside of work hours.
The secretary general of the NEC, Tep Nytha, confirmed that using state resources, including people, to campaign was illegal.
“It violates election law,” he said.
“In the case of using state buildings for political purpose, the commune election committee can warn them or if they do not listen, they will be fined from 5 to 10 million riels [US$1,236 to $2,472],” he said.