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Interior’s Sar Kheng seeks to punish those calling for election boycott

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A member of the public casts her vote under the supervision of an attendant inside Sothearos High School in July 2013. Hong Menea

Interior’s Sar Kheng seeks to punish those calling for election boycott

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, who is also the minister of interior, on Tuesday said the ministry will look at taking action against those who have called for a boycott of the July 29 elections.

Speaking during his closing remarks at the annual anti-human trafficking conference at his ministry, he said his officers were studying the law in reference to taking legal action against the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has called for an election boycott.

He said the legal study was required as the ministry could not lodge a complaint against the CNRP because it had already been dissolved by a court order.

“Since the CNRP is a dissolved party by law, we have to study how to act against it as we can’t file a complaint against a party that has already been dissolved,” he said.

He said the president of the National Election Committee (NEC) had requested legal action be taken against anyone calling for an election boycott.

Thus far, he said his ministry’s legal experts have not rowed back on their interpretation of the Election Law and if those who encourage people not to vote can be liable for punishment.

“The ministry’s experts have not gone back on their report. But if you study the election laws, it mentions this – it says those who prevent others from voting can be punished. Look at the law yourself. I cannot remember where, but the law mentions it,” he said.

Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said, “it can be a fine of 5 to 20 million riel [$1,250 to $5,000], besides punishment for other offences. We are aware there are a few people appealing for a boycott. Sam Rainsy, Eng Chhay Eang, Yem Punharith and his group living abroad are among them. They are Cambodians who have taken up foreign citizenship, so it will just be a waste of time to file a complaint against them. We just have to wait for their return to Phnom Penh to arrest them.

“Also, the 118 people who have been banned from political involvement are still strong in their activities. We are monitoring them and after their five-year ban, we will request the Supreme Court to extend the term for another five years, especially for Eng Chhay Eang,” he said.

He said even though there are appeals to boycott the election coming from abroad, no such demands are being made within Cambodia. Even the appeal via Facebook, Sopheak said, did not come from within the country.

Article 142 of the 1998 Law on Election to the National Assembly prescribes a fine of 5 to 20 million riel by the National Committee. This excludes punishment for those who used dishonest means to win an election, stopped others from exercising their right to vote, or stopped people from having their names in the voter registry.

In May 2018, the NEC suggested that the Ministry of Interior act against Rainsy for continuing to encourage the people to boycott the election.

It said the former opposition party leader’s move was mere propaganda and might “affect the election” and “affect national security”.

Recently, the Ministry of Interior said it will support the NEC’s call to take action against those calling for a boycott of the election. Prime Minister Hun Sen had also branded them as ill intentioned”.

Sam Kuntheamy, the director of Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Nicfec), recently said that while Article 142 does mention that it is an offence to “prevent” people from voting, it did not define what “prevent” meant.

He said the article also failed to clarify what action could be considered as “prevention” as the term is broad. If calling for a boycott of the election is tantamount to preventing someone from voting, then this, he said, was up to interpretation as the law was not clear on the matter.

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