Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who heads the Permanent Security Command Committee (PSCC) for the July 29 national elections, has ordered all relevant authorities and security forces to be vigilant of “poisonous tricks” allegedly being planned by opposition groups.
He said he was speaking particularly about those from the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and told the authorities to take legal action if they spot anyone preventing others from voting or hindering the election process.
Meanwhile, the National Election Committee (NEC) asked the Ministry of Interior to take measures against those spreading fake news.
Kheng was speaking to senior National Police and military generals, provincial governors and Sik Bun Hok, the NEC head, at a meeting held at his ministry to discuss preparations to keep peace during the elections.
He said that senior CNRP members living abroad, international critics of the government, NGOs, and others who supported the opposition were working to mislead the global community about the elections.
Their purpose, he said, was to persuade foreign powers to impose economic sanctions, cut aid and halt foreign investment to the Kingdom. Their ultimate goal, Kheng said, is to damage and call into question the legitimacy of the election process.
“To overcome these poisonous tricks, we need to evaluate the situation thoroughly and predict in advance the nature of dangerous events opposition groups were planning,” he said.
Kheng identified several ways in which the opposition may try to disrupt the process, including persuading people not to vote and engineering disturbances in order to disrupt the social order.
“Prevent and combat all types of activities that are attempting to destroy or hinder the election process in all forms; aim to guarantee a quiet political environment; protect the neutrality of the process to make sure the election is free and fair according democratic principles, so people can go to the polls safely and without intimidation, threats or violence,” he said.
National Police spokesman Kiet Chantharith told journalists after the meeting that 60,000 members of the security forces have been mobilised to ensure security and order is maintained during the national elections.
Addressing the provincial authorities, Kheng said they need to operate like a well-oiled machine, with each department having duties that are vital to the overall election process.
Meanwhile, Bun Hok suggested that the Ministry of Interior take legal measures against all communication activities, including the use of social media that disseminates disinformation or leads people to boycott the election.
“I want the Permanent Security Command Committee to prepare measures for all activities that pass on disinformation in efforts to prevent the people from exercising their right to vote and disrupting the political campaign of other parties. This can lead to a loss of faith in the elections,” Hok said.
Speaking to the journalists after the meeting, Kheng said appealing to people to boycott the elections is prohibited, and legal measures will be taken.
“Preventing people from voting is against the law as stated clearly [in the Law on Election], but the decision to vote or not is the right of the people, as stated in the Constitution and the law,” he stressed.
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec), expressed doubt about the illegality of attempting to persuade others to boycott the elections, adding that the NEC’s suggestion to the Ministry of Interior could jeopardise freedom of expression.
“The law isn’t clear [that calling on others to boycott the polls is prohibited]. It depends on interpretation. We’ll have to wait and see how the Ministry of Interior acts on NEC’s suggestion,” he said.