Public institutions across the country were eerily quiet yesterday as public officials, military personnel and civil servants abandoned their posts, many of them illegally, to participate in the official opening of the Kingdom’s national election campaign season, according to the rights group Adhoc.
The absences and closures – which the National Election Committee said were unannounced – fly in the face of the Cambodian election law, which forbids the use of public resources in political campaigns, and stipulates that public servants are not allowed to campaign for political parties during working hours without submitting written requests for leave.
NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said yesterday that he had not received the official notices of leave needed for officials to participate in political events.
“The court officials, if they are not candidates, they have to ask the NEC permission for the day off, but when they are not candidates and attend the election campaign during the weekdays, that means that they are breaking the law,” he said, noting that if officials take sick leave in order to campaign, the matter would be between them and their bosses.
Adhoc said yesterday they had observed public officials taking part in campaigns in Battambang, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri and Kampot provinces.
When a reporter visited the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh yesterday morning, its parking lot was all but empty, with only a few people milling around the court campus. Asked why the grounds were so hushed, a nearby police officer said that “the judges and attorneys joined the election campaign”.
Verdict declarations were also postponed last week due to a lack of judges, who were busy meeting with provincial party members.
Chhay Thy, Adhoc’s Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator, said that provincial court officials and police officers had been observed wearing CPP T-shirts and hats and participating in campaigns with lawmakers, Banlung town governors and other party members.
“We observed that the state offices are quiet,” he said.
A provincial court officer seen at a campaign declined to comment yesterday, saying his participation was “a private affair”.
“When the officials join the election campaign like this it affects the equity, as they are officials,” Adhoc investigator Ny Chakrya said. “Moreover, it wastes the state’s budget, because they used working hours to join in the election campaign. The NEC should check this again by implementing punishment for – or the prohibition of – political action as the laws have set forth.”