Opposition party and civil society leaders spoke out on Tuesday against a move by the National Election Committee (NEC) that prohibits supporters of any party from attacking or criticising the platform of another.
Several opposition politicians called it an act against democracy, while the NEC’s spokesman claimed only destructive criticism was being banned.
The ban was put in force after caretaker Prime Minister Hun Sen called on people to stop attacking his party and comparing it with others.
Cambodian Youth Party (CYP) president Pich Sros said he didn’t understand the reasoning behind the decision.
“Cambodia is a democracy and it should be normal to criticise. In addition to that, when observing the inaction of the ruling party or the demagogic policies of any party, it needs to be criticise for improvement,” he said.
Political parties, he said, should criticise each other, and comparison is unavoidable as everybody wants to talk about the best ways to improve the country.
“If we do not allow criticism, why create new parties? Having one party is enough, if that’s the case. For example, I don’t like the [court-dissolved] Cambodia National Rescue Party so I formed another political party to criticise it. So I disapprove of this ban,” said Sros.
Chen Thon, the secretary-general for the League for Democracy Party (LDP), said that according to the Kingdom’s laws there is no such ban. The laws only prohibit insult, slander, hiding information and speaking with exaggeration.
He claimed criticisms that bring improvement is a good thing.
“We need to criticise for constructive [growth]. It means that when we see wrong, we say it’s wrong. When we see it right, we say it’s right.
“It’s not that when we see them make one mistake, we say it’s two or three mistakes. That’s called painting or slandering. That’s a problem,” Thon said.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said in this context there are constructive criticism and criticism that’s destructive. The former is not a problem, but if the criticism is destructive, it might cause problems.
“We can criticise to the extent that it’s acceptable [from the other side]. As long as there is no lawsuit, it is no big deal,” he said.
Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections executive director Sam Kuntheamy said parties should create policies in line with social situations to attract voters. This could reduce criticism from other political parties.
“The criticism of political parties is unavoidable. We need to allow some constructive criticism as long as it’s not too extreme,” he said.
Hun Sen, in a speech in Kampong Chhnang on June 27, warned leaders of other political parties that, in order to maintain their position, they must stop attacks immediately.
He also banned his officers from responding to party leaders who criticised him.
Attacks from other political parties on him, he said, were politically motivated and if he responded, it would only give them more exposure.