Ruling party officials in Tbong Khmum have been asked to recruit local civic leaders, including educators and clergymen, to disseminate propaganda and attack the “enemy”, a continuation of a recent trend that has seen the CPP attempt to strengthen its internal structures following unprecedented losses in local polls and ahead of crucial elections in 2018.
The September 9 directive, leaked to local media over the weekend, follows similar instructions asking Cambodian People’s Party officials to “ensure that one member equals one vote” through the creation of “party family books”, and another missive asking all tiers of the party across the country to release public statements supporting Hun Sen’s resolution of a recent border dispute with Laos.
The newly leaked letter, signed by provincial working group head and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, calls for the recruitment of “outstanding” directors and deputy directors at high schools and secondary schools, Muslim imams, and Buddhist clergymen for each commune’s working group to help push the party’s message.
Additionally, it asks for at least one legal expert in each commune to better explain legal intricacies of the party’s activities and, more importantly, to identify purportedly illegal acts by their opponents.
“Working groups must assign at least three people who have good speaking and strong commitment for propaganda, to interpret party principles or to attack, in the war of ideologies, that of the enemy, or opposition party,” the letter reads.
The CPP was rattled by electoral setbacks in June, when the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party won close to 500 of the country’s 1,646 communes – a major drop given the CPP’s near-absolute control over local government historically.
The party’s efforts to shore up its base have also coincided with an apparent clampdown on the opposition and the media, exemplified by the closures of numerous independent media outlets and the widely criticised arrest of CNRP President Kem Sokha on charges of “treason”.
The diktat also refers back to the previous “party family book” directive – a sort of internal party census intended to ensure loyalty – telling provincial officials to complete that process by the end of September.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday said he was unaware of the most recent letter, though in the past he has defended such directives as aimed at ensuring party discipline.
Prach Chan, the head of the party’s provincial central committee, while surprised about the leak, said the letter was routine and the restructuring of local working groups was according to the party’s plans.
“Every party needs [such people] in order to base their activities in the law and explain [things] so brothers and sisters see who breaks the law,” he said yesterday, adding that it was normal to recruit teachers and local religious leaders for the party.
Under the Education Law, schools are instructed to “respect the principles of neutrality”. The law also says that “political activities and/or propaganda for any political party in education establishments and institutions should be completely banned”.
Meanwhile, the Commune Election Law also stipulates that “civil servants in all areas and at all levels” – such as teachers – “shall not use any power or influence, or commit any activity calculated to be giving a support for . . . any political party”.
Ros Salin, spokesman for the Education Ministry, did not respond to requests for comment on the legality of hiring its officials as party propagandists.
Political commentator Meas Nee said the party’s strategy to hire locals for party purposes fell into a legal grey area, but clearly showed that its sole focus on the opposition had perhaps weakened grassroots support.
“And they have forgotten to pay attention to their members, which has made local people unhappy because it is a waste of time to [only] attack its enemy.”