In the lead-up to the commune council elections scheduled for June 5, political parties have begun campaigning at the village level and meeting with their supporters and activists to drum up support, though one party has expressed concerns about intimidation tactics allegedly being used against them during the process.
National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Som Sorida said that now all campaigning activities are guided by the law on political parties and overseen by the Ministry of Interior, but the NEC has jurisdiction over political campaign activities for 14 days prior to each election.
“[The NEC’s] 14 days of control over partisan political propaganda activities runs from May 21 to June 3, 2022,” he said.
The Candlelight is one of many parties that have begun campaign activities by meeting with supporters and activists in the capital and provinces, according to party spokesman Thach Setha.
He said the meeting with his party’s grassroots supporters went smoothly and was free from any threats or pressure from anyone outside the party or the authorities, though his party’s banner was ripped down in Siem Reap province.
“Overall, there are no problems when we go down to meet with our supporters. Our activists will continue to monitor the election’s developments,” he said.
Setha said that in Pailin province, authorities had advised his party supporters not to attack the government leadership directly when making speeches or statements in order to avoid “incitement”.
“We will finally meet with our prospective candidates and see if they will enter into their local elections or not, but no matter what they decide we will respect their will,” he added.
Setha said his party will try to strengthen local organisation infrastructure to get ready for the commune council elections. If they are not able to win any seats in the commune Elections, the party will keep trying to grow its number of supporters for the upcoming national elections in 2023.
FUNCINPEC, whose former president Prince Norodom Ranariddh just passed away recently, is also mobilising support at the grassroots level in order to unify the party behind new president Prince Norodom Chakravuth and end disputes among its members.
Party spokesman Nhoeun Raden told The Post that Prince Chakravuth is committed to mobilising all FUNCINPEC supporters and becoming a strong force in Cambodian politics once again and they plan to start by succeeding in this year’s commune elections.
“I accompanied [Chakravuth] and I noticed that the courage of our members as well as the provincial leaders was very strong and they remain very supportive and are especially energised by the presence of the prince who is young and intellectual and the rightful leader of the party,” he continued.
He said local police provided security for the prince whenever he made campaign stops because FUNCINPEC always informs the local authorities ahead of their planned meetings with supporters in accordance with the law and the party’s principles.
Meetings with local supporters are also being carried out by the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP).
GDP spokesperson Loek Sothea told The Post on January 11 that during a visit with supporters recently, the party members were monitored by the local authorities who took photos of its leaders and asked questions of the activists and supporters there.
“Such activities are attempts at intimidation and they threaten people’s right to participate in politics and support political parties of their choosing. People are worried about their safety when the authorities intimidate them and ask them what they are talking about and what they are doing. This sort of behaviour by officials violates people’s right to participate in politics and associate freely under the law and Constitution,” he said.
Sok Eysan, spokesperson for the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) said that his party was also meeting with local supporters and getting organised ahead of the elections and that the many other parties who were carrying out such activities shows that Cambodia has a wide open political space with full political rights.
“As long as the parties are recognised and registered with the Ministry of Interior they will have equal rights before the law to conduct political activities,” he said.
He said that the concern shown by some political parties regarding the monitoring of their activities by local authorities wasn’t reasonable because the authorities have a role to protect and facilitate partisan political activities.
“The role of the local authorities is to be on standby. The main issue is that all political parties as well as civil society organisations have to provide information to their local authorities before conducting activities at the grassroots level. They should not be worried,” adding that monitoring by police and authorities was done to protect security, public order and facilitate their activities.
Em Sovannara, a professor of political science at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the CPP wants to show that all political parties can meet with their supporters and activists ahead of the election because it provides evidence in support of the argument that Cambodia still has a multi-party democracy.
However, he emphasised that these early activities by political parties didn’t reflect a totally free and fair atmosphere in political organising as Cambodia has many restrictions on political activities written into law and there is currently an absence of motivation by the public to pay attention to politics.
“Allowing meetings between the supporters and activists of political parties is at this time, in my view, not enough to show the presence of an actual multi-party democracy, it’s just for show. If you’re asking whether the mechanisms are in place that allow for full representation and a fully democratic society, we’re not quite there yet,” he said.