Prime Minister Hun Sen called on state officials on Thursday to be “neutral” during the election campaign period which begins on Saturday. He also announced that he will issue a directive banning the sale of alcohol at the July 29 national elections.
Speaking during a meeting with more than 27,500 garment workers from 25 factories in Kandal province, he said: “Very soon, there will be a directive signed by me at the request of the National Election Committee (NEC).
“It is a procedure to prohibit drinking alcohol on election day. However, there will be one group that plans to drink and dance, on that day. They want to be jailed.
“I called the ban on selling alcohol because it will make people drunk and cause violence. I asked people who sell drinks not to sell wine or any alcohol-related beverage,” he said.
NEC member and spokesman Hang Puthea said it was routine for his organisation to ask for a directive prohibiting alcohol sales for two days, the day of the polls and the day before.
“The first reason is that alcohol might impact the thinking process or spirit of the people who may decide to do something. Second, the consumption of alcohol is the starting point for violence.
“Therefore, the NEC wants people to have proper spirits in making decisions on voting for a political party. The NEC would also like to maintain a calm social situation,” he said.
On his call to adhere to “neutral politics” to maintain a free, fair and just election, Hun Sen said: “I take this opportunity to remind government officers at all levels and from relevant institutions to maintain a neutral political environment to ensure a free, just, and fair election,” he said.
He was echoing the interior and defence ministries which, earlier this week, also advised their employees not to use their influence, equipment, money or working hours to support any political party. The prime minister made this request on Thursday.
Hun said: “All those who are working under state institutions must not use its property for election campaigns. No other political party can do that, only the CPP.
“Therefore, if your vehicles carry state, police or military licence plates, don’t use them during the election campaign. Do not use gasoline provided by the government either. Use personal gasoline,” the CPP president said.
Election expert Yoeurng Sotheara said he appreciated Hun Sen’s remarks, calling on civil servants and armed forces to be politically neutral.
“However, there are loopholes in the law and its practice. The law on the general status of civil servants and the law on the separate status of the armed forces do not absolutely prevent civil servants or the army from participating in political affairs, especially the ranking heads of the components, ministries or commanders,” he said.
Sotheara said the law permitted them to take leave during the campaign period. Off-duty, they are able to express their political position as any citizen can.
“It has been observed that many civil servants or army [members] often take leave during the campaign to participate in political parties, and that’s problematic. Therefore, this can’t make them neutral from politics.”
Sotheara said there were no laws preventing citizens from consuming alcohol at certain times.
“In special circumstances, the [prime minister] may issue an executive order in the public interest. If alcohol consumption [is banned] it should not be punishable by imprisonment.
“The Cambodian Penal Code stipulates the offence of intoxication is a petty one punishable only by a fine of 5,000-10,000 riel [$1.25-$2.50] upon conviction,” he said.