High-ranking military and police officials have been intimidating voters before the election by openly campaigning for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, international NGO Human Rights Watch claimed.
In a statement, HRW Asia director Brad Adams — a frequently outspoken critic of Hun Sen and his government — said combined forces loyal to the CPP had created an “intimidating atmosphere” for voters.
“Cambodia’s armed forces and police should be nonpartisan state institutions, but during the pre-election period they have acted as the campaign arm for Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling party,” Adams says.
HRW alleges that this “ongoing” campaign, carried out mainly in provincial areas, has involved high-ranking officials such as: supreme commander of the military Pol Saroeun; military joint general staff chairman Kun Kim; Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet — Kim’s deputy; and military deputy supreme commander Hing Bun Hieng.
“The partisan role of the security forces not only affects the voting, but also the post-election period, when the opposition parties and their supporters are vulnerable to retaliation and other abuses,” it adds.
Adding to the tense atmosphere, the group says, the CPP’s warnings of war breaking out if it loses the election this Sunday have, in effect, been reminders of Hun Sen’s “violent” record as prime minister.
“After Hun Sen’s July 1997 coup, carried out by senior military, gendarmerie, and police officers loyal to him, the prime minister has used his increasing political dominance to enhance the political partisanship of the military and police officer corps,” the statement says.
HRW adds that many of those named in its list of campaigners were also mentioned in a report the group released last November documenting unsolved killings of political activists, journalists and opposition politicians since 1991.
The government, however, hit back at HRW’s latest claims yesterday, saying those standing as candidates — including Kim — had taken leave from their position to campaign, while the others had campaigned only in their own time.
“They would be at fault if they hadn’t taken leave or were campaigning in uniform,” said CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith.
Kanharith, who is also the information minister, said he would not respond further to allegations from a group that “never reads the law and tries to create excuses in case the opposition loses the vote”.
General Pol Saroeun, accused of campaigning in Preah Sihanouk province, could not be reached.
But his deputy commander-in-chief, Sao Sokha, said the law allowed military and police officials to support any party they wish and to campaign in their own time.
“We’re campaigning as civilians, not in the name of the military or civil servants,” he said. “It’s like going for a walk at the weekend. We don’t wear military uniform, just civilian clothes.”
Separately, rights-monitoring group Transparency International Cambodia yesterday expressed its concerns that public officials were “campaigning during workings hours whilst using state property”.