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Gov’t to use 76K troops to provide security at polls

Ministry of Interior officials attend a meeting in Phnom Penh on security for voter registration and upcoming elections yesterday.
Ministry of Interior officials attend a meeting in Phnom Penh on security for voter registration and upcoming elections yesterday. Pha Lina

Gov’t to use 76K troops to provide security at polls

The government will deploy roughly 76,000 police, gendarmerie officers and army troops to monitor next year’s commune ballot, while thousands will be assigned in coming months to monitor the voter registration process and the election campaign.

At a meeting yesterday at the Interior Ministry, National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun said authorities will deploy 5,236 local and military police during the nationwide registration period, which kicks off on Thursday.

For the two-week campaign preceding the vote, 19,311 members of Cambodia’s security forces will work to “protect” voters, including local police and military police and troops from the armed forces.

On election day – June 4 next year – about 76,000 officers from the police, gendarmerie and army will be on duty, Savoeun said.

“The purpose is to secure safety and public order during the registration days and for the election day and to make sure the procedure runs smoothly with no intimidation and no violence,” the police chief said.

Savoeun said local police would be assigned to polling stations, while army troops would remain at district-level facilities on standby. This will also be the case during the voter registration period, when military police officers will remain at district headquarters.

According to the Commune Election Law, weapons are not allowed within 100 metres of the voting booth, even if carried by people in uniform.

Speaking at the meeting, National Election Committee President Sik Bunhok said authorities must ensure “stability”, pointing to episodes of violence and unrest during and after the disputed 2013 election.

Bunhok specifically referenced the riot in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district, where opposition supporters, incensed at what they claimed were Vietnamese nationals voting illegally, destroyed two military vehicles and also described the opposition-led protests against the result as “anarchy”.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party has recently drawn criticism from some quarters for announcing plans to station monitors at registrar offices to watch for would-be illegal voters demonstrating a lack of Khmer-language skills.

Though agreeing with the need to have police maintain order during the election, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday said the mobilisation of the security forces for the registration period was unprecedented and unwarranted.

“It creates a bad image,” he said.

In its post-2013 election report, election watchdog Comfrel noted an atmosphere of “fear and intimation” in some areas where military and police officials openly supported the CPP. The group documented 248 such cases.

“Armed forces and police were not on duty to provide security for the events but to actively support the CPP campaign and openly demonstrated their loyalty to the party,” the report reads.

Social analyst Meas Nee said deploying thousands of security forces, including the army, was overkill for a country “not in chaos like the Middle East” and would likely make voters uneasy.

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