The Interior Ministry has ordered local authorities to stop collecting thumbprinted letters of election support, echoing NGOs who alleged earlier this week that the practice amounts to intimidation.
“Municipal and provincial governors shall stop immediately making petitions to support the results of the fifth mandate of the parliamentary election and stop immediately instructing the local authorities to make residents thumb print in support of the election result,” Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng wrote in a letter disseminated to provincial authorities on Tuesday but released yesterday.
The directive is aimed at “strengthening the neutrality of public authorities at all levels”.
There have been widespread reports of local authorities asking residents in Phnom Penh and further afield to sign letters saying they support the results of the election and would not demonstrate. NGOs decried the practice, calling it tacit intimidation. Villagers, meanwhile, told the Post earlier this week that while they have not been forced to do so, they feared their refusal would result in local authorities withholding public services or harassing them in the future.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that he believed the letter would put an immediate end to the practice.
“It’s a ministry order. Therefore, the authorities must implement it, and I believe no one will dare to disrespect the ministry’s order.”
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, welcomed the measure.
“If people agree to do so by themselves, it’s their right, but for this, the authorities have a role as neutral officials. So they are violating their code of ethics as officials. We welcome Sar Kheng’s statement, but the minister should have done it earlier.”