The Ministry of Justice on Wednesday called for legal action against leaders of a former opposition party who evoked the King in their calls for a nationwide boycott of this month’s national elections.
Recently, two members of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) issued pleas to the nation via Facebook, to follow the example of King Norodom Sihamoni and not vote on July 29, as part of their “Clean Fingers” election boycott campaign.
Government officials said they considered such action as an “offence” against the King and the Cambodian people.
Senior leaders of the former CNRP, on the other hand, claimed the government was afraid that such boycott calls would be successful.
The ministry’s call for legal action comes after the former president of the CNRP, Sam Rainsy, and Eng Chhay Eang, its former deputy president, recently made Facebook posts claiming that boycotting the election is akin to “following” the King’s action of not voting.
A ruling party spokesperson said the former opposition party’s campaign could be effective – but only with those who live outside the country.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin told The Post on Wednesday that the former CNRP leaders had insulted the King, which violated Cambodia’s lèse majesté law. He said they must be held accountable for their actions.
“My view is that those who commit this type of action must be held responsible."
"We cannot let those individuals violate the law or just do whatever they want to violate the King, a symbol of the country, who everybody respects and love . . . It is unacceptable, not only for me but the people as well,” he said.
He said while the King has a right to vote, he doesn’t because of his desire to remain neutral as he is the King of all Cambodians and not just a political party.
“This action is one that violates [the law]. It’s slander and has negative effects on the reputation of the King. It looks down on the King, and abuses his reputation,” Malin said.
He said the ministry is reviewing the case, but whether charges will be filed depends on the prosecutors. Nonetheless, he reiterated that “it is an offence”.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan wrote on Telegram that the CNRP’s Clean Fingers campaign is “hopeless”.
“As for the campaign, it is effective only for those who live abroad and who have not registered for the election,” he wrote.
“Therefore, their Clean Fingers campaign is not effective. The election process will go smoothly and reflect the will of the Cambodian people, who will decide the fate of the country in line with multiparty democracy.”
However, former CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua questioned why the government would decide to take such action. She asked The Post: “Why is the government so afraid of a simple clean finger?”
Speaking to AFP, Andrea Giorgetta, director of the Asia desk for the International Federation for Human Rights, said the proposed boycott was legal and that the government’s reaction was “another sign of its fear”.