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Keep the peace at polls: premier

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A woman casts her vote in last June’s commune election in Kandal province. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

In yet another speech tinged with election rhetoric, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday urged local authorities to maintain peace in the run-up to the July national elections in order to quash would-be criticism of a less-than-fair outcome.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony held at Koh Pich, the premier said he wanted to ensure the elections were held in a free and fair manner that all political parties would accept.

“This is a political competition instead of an armed competition. After decades in which people were killed, guns have changed into ballots. As a result, I would like to appeal for all sub-national-level authorities, national institutions and armed forces alike to work hard to keep the political atmosphere neutral for the whole election process. All parties must have freedom in campaigns,” he said.

Pointing out that democratic competition is the cornerstone of modern Cambodia, Hun Sen said he was “proud of seeing that election to election, our people have no division and no killing one another through a political trend. I hope such atmosphere remains forever.”

Though election violence has become a thing of the past, the months before last year’s commune elections saw an uptick in protests as well as crackdowns by government forces.

Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the premier’s order was an important one, but urged the government to consider turning the suggestion into law.

“This is a good idea, but the royal government should issue a special directive. It would be better than giving a recommendation, because previously a number of sub-level officers did not follow this recommendation,” he said. “Previously, they did not act neutrally.”

Echoing the assessment, independent social analyst Kem Ley said that without punishment, there would be little incentive for authorities to behave.

“Those calls are not effective unless the law states that police, soldiers [and] court officers must be neutral,” Ley said.

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