Cambodian telecom companies are sending text messages urging the public to vote in the July 29 elections, at the behest of the government.
This comes despite a denial from an official with the telecommunications regulator, who claims the National Election Committee (NEC) only requested telecom companies to disseminate news on its activities.
Im Vutha, director of the Regulation and Disputes Unit of the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia (TRC), said the NEC has asked telecoms companies to help keep people informed of the national elections.
“They have been sending texts because the NEC requested they disseminate news about the committee’s activities. It is not an appeal for people to go and vote. Look at the messages that have been sent,” Vutha said.
However, as if to dispute his comments, an SMS sent by Cellcard and Smart to their users on Tuesday reads: “NEC president calls on people named in the voting list to be ready and prepare relevant documents needed to vote on July 29, 2018.”
Another message sent to Cellcard users on Saturday reads: “The ballot for the July 29, 2018, election is being published and will be displayed on June 15, 2018, in the morning. NEC calls on all employers to facilitate all its employees to take leave so that everyone can go to vote.
“In response to a request from the NEC, the Ministry of Labour requires all employees to take three days off to vote on the July 29, 2018 election.”
Vutha said the NEC had made a request to the TRC.He said there was nothing more than disseminating information on NEC’s work. In the past, it was disseminated through TV and radio and that it served to inform the public about the NEC’s work. “There is nothing strange to it,” he said.
Vutha said the TRC was not forcing any telecom company to comply with the NEC’s request.
“There was no coercion. We merely made a request and it is up to the companies to decide if they wished to cooperate,” Vutha said.
He compared the move to public service announcements phone companies often send at the behest of the government.
“We know it is difficult for the companies, but they have always cooperated to help society, like they do when it comes to drug abuse, traffic accidents, human trafficking and aid.
Vutha said the TRC requested every telecom company operating in Cambodia and that the big three – Cellcard, Smart and Met Phone – are among those disseminating election news to the public.
“People can say whatever they want [about the request]. It’s in the people’s interest,” he said.
In an email to The Post, Cellcard said: “Cellcard has been requested by the TRC to send SMS to its customers. The broadcast commenced approximately early this month and will continue for the foreseeable weeks. The messages are being broadcasted in Khmer.”
Sam Kuntheamy, the executive director of election watchdog Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said: “We have seen the NEC messages in which people are called to go and vote … The text messages contain similar appeals for people to vote.”
He said this election season is different from previous ones because of the text messages from telecoms companies and government agencies lecturing people about the election and haranguing companies to give their workers days off.
“The difference in the election process this time is that the government and NEC are concerned about the number of people who turn out to vote.
“Before, they didn’t care because the presence of the [court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)] on the ballot assured a high turnout.
“This time there is no CNRP, so when people consider whether to vote, they feel like it doesn’t matter because the [ruling Cambodian People’s Party] will win. So therefore all relevant institutions must do whatever they can to encourage more people to vote,” Kuntheamy said.