Opposition parties and civil society groups in Cambodia objected on Friday to what they consider last-minute rules issued by the country’s election committee to reduce political campaigning to two days, keep campaigners off main roadways, and maintain public order during election rallies in the run-up to next month’s commune elections.
The National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees national elections in Cambodia, has limited public rallies to two days during a 12-day period, and said that the remaining time should be used for normal political campaign activities. It has also restricted the number of campaigners involved in public activities, such as distributing leaflets, and the number of vehicles they can use during this time.
Opposition parties and civil society group interpreted the moves as further restrictions on their right to hold public rallies during the official 12-day campaign period beginning on May 20 before commune elections on June 4.
Meng Sopheary, head of the Election and Legislative Affairs Department of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said the instructions issued by the NEC, which oversees the country’s national elections, restrict political parties’ ability to disseminate their messages.
She raised questions about why the NEC, a supposedly independent body, was putting in place various restrictions and said that the move likely came as a result of the CNRP’s growing popularity.
“For the CNRP, we want the campaign rally to be held as widely as possible to send our political messages to the people,” she said. “We want the people to join us, and our supporters also want to take part in the rally to show that the CNRP’s campaign can attract many [people]. Such limitations don’t allow us to stage activities on a grand scale.”
Observers say the CNRP—one of 12 political parties competing for 1,646 commune council seats—could give the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) a run for its money in the June polls, foreshadowing a possible CNRP win in national elections scheduled for 2018.
Thorn Chantha, deputy secretary-general of the royalist Funcinpec party, said the NEC’s instructions on holding campaign rallies do not provide complete explanations, and he is concerned that campaigners may interpret the rules differently.
Nevertheless, CPP headquarters official Chhao Vanndeth agrees with NEC’s instructions, arguing that the body’s regulations are based on reason and the law.
“The CPP can accept all the NEC instructions in addition to [election campaign] laws and directives,” he said. “We don’t have any problems with them. The CPP will implement and abide by the NEC’s instructions.”
Ensuring public order
Tep Nitha, the NEC’s secretary general, said…