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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lundy talks tough before vote

Lundy talks tough before vote

THE country's police chief has warned his forces will crack down hard on any post-election

protests. Hok Lundy said on July 15 that political parties must not incite violence

or protest forcefully once the National Election Committee (NEC) announces the election

result.

Lundy also heads the Central Bureau for Security (CBS), one of whose functions is

to coordinate with the NEC to ensure security for the election. The bureau is dominated

by senior figures in the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

Lundy said the reason for his announcement was simply that a peaceful response to

the election result would provide an easier environment in which to form a new government.

"As the head of the CBS secretariat, I am already prepared to solve any problems

that may arise as a result of the election," he said. "If chaos is caused

by any political party that is not satisfied with the election result and violence

erupts, the authority is ready to maintain security for the people."

Lundy declined to say how many of the CBS's armed forces had been drafted in to cope

with trouble on election day itself. But General Mao Chandara, who is a also member

of the CBS, said the bureau has thousands of forces at its call-40 members of the

army, police and gendarmerie are now in place in every district across the country,

and it can call on more if necessary.

Fears of violence are increasing as election day draws closer. Elections and violence

have in the past gone together: after the last general election in 1998, there were

widespread demonstrations in Phnom Penh against the result.

The so-called Democracy Square demonstrations were joined by Funcinpec's Prince Norodom

Ranariddh and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who charged that the ballot was fraudulent.

Around two dozen people were killed and many injured when the demonstrations were

broken up by the police.

The theme of violence was also addressed by King Norodom Sihanouk, who returned on

July 14 from four months of medical treatment in Beijing. Speaking on his arrival

at Phnom Penh International Airport, the King called on the leaders of all political

parties to refrain from violence, and said party leaders should not promise voters

what they were unable to deliver.

"In the manner of a parent, I advise [political leaders] to act in accordance

without conflict. Although there are criticisms, each has to respect the other as

though they are in one big Khmer family, because we all have the same ideal of nationalism,"

he said.

Concerns of violence were also highlighted the following day by co-Minister of Interior

Sar Kheng. Speaking to 100 senior police officers at the ministry, he urged the NEC

and the CBS to strengthen their cooperation and increase security around the country

before, during and after the election.

Sar Kheng accused some politicians and the international community of creating false

reports of political killings in order to disrupt the political environment. He said

such action was deliberately meant to confuse the outside world about the country's

true political situation.

And although criminal cases had been filed against members of the Cambodian People's

Party (CPP), Funcinpec, and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), he maintained that the security

situation was much improved from the run-up to the 2002 commune election or the 1998

general election.

"We need security and stability to ensure the election is free, fair, non-violent

and without intimidation," Sar Kheng said. "This is the only way the result

will be acceptable to all.

"If the elections are not free and fair, the political environment will be darkened

by acts of violence and intimidation and, in turn, the Kingdom of Cambodia will fail

in its desire to practice democracy," he added.

If protests do happen, they will likely involve pro-democracy student groups. The

Democratic Front for Khmer Students and Intellectuals (DFKSI) said its members and

those of its political party, the Khmer Front Party (KFP), were prepared to demonstrate

if the election process appeared undemocratic.

DFKSI vice-president Sun Sokunmelea said the CPP posed the greatest threat to a fair

election.

"We know the CPP will threaten people on election day. Maybe they will give

people pre-filled ballots at the polling station. We know the CPP will create violence,

but we have a strategy to escape its force," she said.

Sokunmelea would not divulge the group's strategy or the number of supporters she

expected because of fears of a counter-demonstration.

"Hun Sen gets the Pagoda Boys out to overpower us," she said. "This

has happened several times. Every time."

The Pagoda Boys, known officially as the Pagoda Children, Intelligentsia and Student

Association (PCISA), is a 4,000-strong pro-CPP and government-linked student group.

Sokunmelea said the Pagoda Boys had clashed with her group before, and had also threatened

them.

"Sometimes they look down on women and use violent language. For example, [threatening]

to rape us," she said. "We have no guns, no electric sticks. But we have

intelligence, the brain. The CPP has no intelligence, just violent people who cheat,

and a willingness to take orders from Vietnam."

Pagoda Boys president Seng Sovannar said he could coordinate his members, who are

based at 27 pagodas, to get to a demonstration within an hour. The group has in the

past used violence with impunity to break up demonstrations to which the CPP objects.

But Sovannar was unable to say whether the Pagoda Boys would get involved in combating

any post-election demonstrations this time.

"I cannot respond to this," he said, smiling.

And the group's secretary, Yi Mao, added: "Unlike other organizations, we haven't

reached that point yet".

Sovannar implied that his reaction would depend on the ruling of the election monitors.

"We depend on national and international watchdogs," he said. "If

these monitors say the election is free and fair, then there will be no reason to

demonstrate. [The protesters'] actions will not be justifiable and their actions

illegal."

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