After the Ministry of Justice said it would punish those who ink their fingers despite having not voted, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday gave a similar warning.
Legal experts and observers, however, are questioning the existence of any law that punishes such an “offence”.
Nonetheless, the ministry insists it can punish offenders “for the evil intention to create confusion over the outcome of the election”.
Inking a finger without voting, it said, creates a misconception of election irregularities, as it would appear that more people voted than actually did. This, the ministry said, would instigate “social chaos”.
On Wednesday, a ministry official threatened that those who boycott the July 29 election but ink their fingers to indicate they had voted will face punishment according to the law.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of a cement factory in Battambang province on Thursday, Hun Sen echoed similar sentiments.
“You don’t go to prison for not going to vote, but you could go to prison if you pretended to have voted. Do not make that mistake – just cast your vote,” he said.
The premier criticised the “convict”, believed to be former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy who has called on the people to boycott the national elections, saying it was he [Rainsy] who had instigated the people to ink their finger despite not voting.
“Let me tell you that you will never succeed. Do not cause others to be punished for a crime you want to commit … This is fraud. People have been quietly told not to go to vote and that, in order not to be noticed, they should ink their fingers with nail polish,” Hun Sen said.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, who is chief attorney at AMRIN Law and Consultants Group, said he did not know of any law or article that punished such acts as pretending to have voted.
“It is neither in the election laws nor in criminal laws. It is not right to enforce the Criminal Code on election issues. It should be the Election Law,” he said.
However, he warned that if people are not going to vote then they should not ink their finger as there may well be consequences.
“It is not illegal for someone not to vote, but they should not do anything after that. If that person inks his finger to imply he has voted but did not, it may very well bring consequences,” Sam Oeun said.
Agreeing with him, political analyst Meas Nee said he sees the warning as a plan to attract a bigger voter turnout.
“There is no law that punishes such acts, but Cambodians should be careful.
“If you ink your finger with any liquid that could be wiped off, they [the authorities] may accuse you of subverting the election,” Nee said.
However, ministry spokesman Chin Malin dismissed Sam Oeun and Nee’s arguments, claiming that prosecutors possess the authority to accuse someone who has an “evil intention” to “ruin the outcome of the election”, “cause social chaos”, “undermine social stability” or make the people lose faith in the authorities.
“For example, when some people start a group that gets people not to vote but ink their finger to appear as if they did, and in the process it gives the impression that more people had voted then actually did, the people will attack the authorities.
“[The authorities] could be accused of fraud, which may lead to a rebellion against the government,” he said.
However, Malin too could not specify which law will be applied by such action.
“It could become a criminal matter, for instance, when such people clearly intend to cause chaos and affect social stability,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ou Chanrath, a former lawmaker for the court-dissolved CNRP, said he, too, did not know of any law which could be used against those who inked their finger.
“In general, just as there is no law to punish those who post their personal opinion on social media, I also cannot find any law that punishes those who ink their finger [without going to vote],” he said.