“Guardian spirits” know that oaths of allegiance were forced out of fear and desperation, says Kem Sokha.
The Human Rights Party held an “oath discharging” ceremony on July 22 for Cambodian people who have been forced to swear allegiance to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, some in return for accepting gifts or favors.
The ceremony was intended to absolve voters of a sense of further obligation to the CPP when they enter the voting booth, said Human Rights Party (HRP) leader Kem Sokha.
People feel a moral and spiritual obligation to fulfill oaths they’ve taken, Sokha said, and choose not to refuse gifts because of the poverty they live in.
The guardian spirits were aware that the people’s oaths were forced out of fear and desperation, he said, so the ceremony was designed to clear people of a sense of further obligation to the CPP.
“On behalf of all people, I, Kem Sokha, would like to hold this ceremony to fulfill and discharge the oaths of all of you who have been forced to swear to vote for their party, so that the people’s oaths are forever discharged from today,” Sokha intoned at the ceremony.
No one should vote in fear of oaths or intimidation because the ballot is secret and no one can know how someone has voted, he told the approximately 300 participants in the ceremony, two of whom admitted that they had been coerced to make oaths in return for gifts.
Sokha said he did not know how many people have been forced to swear allegiance to the CPP but had repeatedly heard people describe this in his travels to provinces throughout the Kingdom.
While many were afraid to openly admit taking oaths, Sok Leng said he accepted a gift on July 5 in exchange for swearing to vote for a party he refused to name.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap accused Sokha of staging the ceremony to enhance his own popularity and denied that anyone had been forced to swear to vote for the CPP, acknowledging that the secret ballot would make such oaths worthless.
“Kem Sokha can do what he wants but should not make accusations. The CPP has not forced anyone to swear,” Yeap said. “In my province of Prey Veng, a lot of people have joined the CPP and no one was forced to swear.”
Koul Panha, executive director of the Cambodian election monitor Comfrel, said it was not surprising that parties would play on people’s beliefs.
While there have been no official complaints that people had been forced to swear oaths, some have given thumbprints to CPP officers as evidence of loyalty, Panha said.
He noted that the CPP has also held meetings to urge support for the party beneath banyan trees, a setting loaded with Buddhist significance.