An election official warned Facebook users not to make any politically charged posts the day before the election yesterday during a three-day training session on campaign monitoring, with observers accusing him of overstepping the bounds of a rule forbidding parties from campaigning on that day.
National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nytha made the comments during a seminar attended by both political parties meant to cover campaign monitoring, voter education, training election officials, vote counting, result announcements and the maintenance of security and safety.
Political parties are prohibited from campaigning on the day before the June 4 commune elections, but Nytha yesterday appealed to social media users to respect the ban as well.
“The NEC does not yet have a concrete mechanism against this problem, but we will cooperate with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications to monitor this case and take action to solve the problem ... we will educate and encourage users to cooperate with us,” Nytha said.
However, Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of election watchdog Nicfec, said that while political parties cannot campaign via Facebook on the day before the election, the law makes no mention of
“The law does not prevent individuals, only political parties and candidates . . . The NEC should not ban individuals from saying something, even on the cooling day,” he said.
Hang Puthea, the NEC’s spokesman and the nine-man committee’s neutral member, appeared to walk back Nytha’s remarks yesterday, maintaining that no legal action will be taken against social media users who do engage in political speech unless they intentionally misled the public. For example, he said, action could be taken against a user who lied about a crisis at a polling station in order to trick other voters into not voting.
“We just call on social media users to use the platform responsibly and make sure the election environment is good and peaceful,” Puthea added.
Despite this assurance, Puthea told media outlet RFI that if the political content posted is “serious” enough, another institution will be tasked with investigating it.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said intimidation of Facebook users by the government is “not unusual”.
“If the government has the genuine will to promote democracy . . . they should encourage people to voice their opinion,” he added.