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Officials told to remain neutral

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Military troop carriers parked near a polling station in Ta Siem commune during last year’s commune elections. Shaun Turton

Officials told to remain neutral

The Ministry of Interior on Tuesday ordered village and commune chiefs across Cambodia to not abuse their position, and the resources that come with it, by campaigning ahead of the Kingdom’s July 29 national elections.

A ministry pronouncement, signed by Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, calls on officials to be “neutral” and implement procedures legally during the campaign period, which begins on Saturday, to ensure free and fair elections.

“Commune chiefs, deputy commune chiefs and commune council members who wish to join the election campaign must not abuse their influence as members of commune councils and commune administrations, and must not use the commune administration budget or materials to serve the election campaign of a political party.

“Village chiefs or deputy chiefs and village council members who wish to join the election campaign of a political party have to file an application to their commune chief for a day off [to do so],” the pronouncement said.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Tea Banh joined his Interior Ministry counterpart in ordering members of the armed forces not to use any military equipment, including uniforms and vehicles, for campaigning.

Ministry of National Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said Tea Banh, during a meeting at its offices on Tuesday, had instructed all heads of units to not allow the use of military equipment for election campaigning.

Sam Kuntheamy, the director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee For Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said in the past some officials had abused their positions and state resources to run campaigns, and yet had not been punished by the Interior Ministry.

He said the Interior Ministry had previously issued such pronouncements before elections informing government officials to remain neutral and not use state resources or property for election campaigning, edicts that were ultimately ignored by some.

“The announcements were not effective. Some followed, but some did not because there was no clear monitoring measure [and] they used their position to serve a party,” he said.

“Some officials disobeyed the orders, but the National Election Committee has never punished anyone violating these announcements.

“Many times we have seen officials using their working hours to serve a party. In some cases, they even used state property to do so. We have also seen state vehicles used in election campaigning as well.”

Net Saren, Prek Eng commune chief in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov district, said he had already received the Interior Ministry’s pronouncement from the district authority and would follow the orders given.

Hang Puthea, a spokesman for the National Election Committee, which is overseeing the polls, said, in general, there is no such thing as a perfect campaign period, but civil servants must remain neutral to ensure the polls are as fair as possible.

He said civil servants must be neutral and not use their uniforms, firearms, state property or the power of their offices to threaten people, or else they would face punishment according to the law.

“In previous elections, some officials were fined by the NEC [for breaking election laws],” he said.

Twenty political parties are registered to compete in the national elections due to be held on July 29.

The US and European Union have said they will not recognise the result of the elections, with the former leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Kem Sokha held in pre-trial detention on “treason” charges and its lawmakers barred from standing in the polls.

The Cambodian government and the NEC have said it is the Kingdom’s right to take action against its citizens under its own laws, and that the important thing is to ensure the elections would be free and fair.

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