The ruling party wants to change the law governing commune elections to reduce the campaign period from 15 to 10 days and ban campaign rallies from spilling across commune boundaries, Interior Minister Sar Kheng has announced.
Kheng, also deputy prime minister and vice president of the Cambodian People’s Party, claimed the reforms are necessary to maintain social security and order during the 2017 commune council vote.
He pointed to the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s protests after the disputed 2013 national election to support the argument.
“Our stance, we [the CPP electoral working group] believe that commune council election campaign should be conducted in the commune and should not cross to other communes,” Kheng said during a ceremony to swear in the new Preah Sihanouk governor on Monday.
“But the [CNRP] want to march their campaigns without specific locations [in mind]. This would cause some trouble with the social security and order, and this would be hard to control.”
Kheng accused opposition lawmakers of leaving a trail of shaken investor confidence in their wake following their post-2013 election protest campaign, which they abandoned when it did not deliver, he added.
”They destroyed national development,” Kheng went on to say. “Investors were concerned and gave up investment in Cambodia.”
Working groups for both parties are currently discussing amendments to the existing 2006 Commune Council Election Law – which permits campaigning for 15 days up until the day before the vote and doesn’t restrict where parties can campaign.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith, a member of opposition’s working group, said the party opposed the ruling party’s proposals which, he said, would suppress the freedom of parties to campaign.
“Though the commune/sangkat council election is a grassroots election, it needs to be open and democratic,” Ponharith said.
National Election Committee (NEC) chairman Sek Bun Hok declined to discuss the CPP proposal’s merits. “The decision is based on an agreement between both parties. Once the law is done, then the NEC will implement it,” he said.
Independent political observer Ou Virak, founder of think tank the Future Forum, said the proposals appeared to be a move to stop the CNRP from turning the commune ballot into a national movement, with the CPP traditionally stronger on local issues given their capacity to deliver services.
“This is one way to prevent the opposition from holding rallies where they parade through the cities,” Virak said. “Also, the CPP is maybe afraid that any of these rallies could actually lead to more demand for the government to change – those fears of the colour revolutions again.”
Executive director of election watchdog Comfrel Koul Panha said that such changes would also hurt small parties without the cash to pay for television or radio slots to raise their profile.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING SHAUN TURTON