Agents working for Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) are threatening to end public services for indigenous residents of Mondulkiri province unless they vote for the party in an upcoming election marred by allegations of campaign violations and a ban on the opposition, according to sources.
An ethnic Phnong resident of Pulu village, in Mondulkiri’s Bu Sra commune, told RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday that local authorities and agents of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC)—headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Hun Many—were compelling villagers to tick number 20 for the CPP on sample ballots ahead of the July 29 general election.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the resident said that authorities and UYFC agents told villagers local government officials would refuse to sign legal documents—including land titles, birth certificates, and family registers—for those who do not vote for the CPP on the sample ballots.
“They forced us to mark number 20, which represents the Cambodian People’s Party,” said the resident.
“The commune chief was present [at the gathering forcing villagers to vote for the CPP].”
While many villagers did as they were told, some refused to vote for the ruling party, he said, adding that he suspects the authorities will place the sample ballots into regular ballot boxes and count them as legal votes.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November over allegations it was involved in a plot to topple the government, stripping the party’s officials of their posts and banning many lawmakers from politics for five years.
The dissolution of the CNRP and the arrest two months earlier of its leader Kem Sokha, as well as a months-long crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, are measures widely seen as part of a bid by Hun Sen to ensure that the CPP stays in power in Cambodia following the general election.
But even with the ban in place against the CNRP, the ruling party has aggressively courted votes—including outside of the official campaign period—and deployed senior members of the security forces to publicly endorse Hun Sen, New York-based Human Rights Watch said earlier this week, in what is seen as an intimidation tactic and a violation of Cambodia’s electoral laws.
When asked about the possibility of voter fraud in Pulu village, National Election Committee (NEC) spokesperson Hang Puthea told RFA Tuesday that he had not received any complaints and was unaware of the allegations.
Without a complaint, the NEC was unable to act, he added.
“According to the law, the NEC cannot act like a prosecutor,” he said.
“The NEC’s job is to act responsibly … not to simply make accusations.”
Kang Savang, an official with local electoral watchdog the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), said that all political parties have the right to campaign, but cannot force people to mark ballots for any particular party.
He said that threatening to withhold public services to those who refused to cast a sample ballot is unlawful, and suggested that the NEC was entirely within its rights to examine the claims.
“When something like this occurs, the NEC does not need to wait for a complaint or lawsuit,” Kang Savang said.
“The NEC should take action,” he said, adding that the electoral body is obligated to protect Cambodians from threats and intimidation.
The allegations of threats against voters, and Human Rights Watch’s claims that senior members of the security forces were publicly stumping for Hun Sen and the CPP, came a week after Cambodia’s Minister of Defense Tea Banh banned military officers from using security vehicles and equipment to campaign ahead of the election.
NGOs had welcomed Tea Banh’s directive and called on authorities to enforce it, noting that in past elections, military vehicles and equipment were used to campaign despite similar bans, with offenders removing insignias so that members of the public did not know whether they belonged to the government or the security forces.
Ahead of 2013’s general election, NGOs slammed unfair competition during the campaign period, saying government officials and civil servants had used state resources while stumping for their party.
Last month, election observers accused Hun Sen of acting in breach of Cambodia’s electoral laws by urging people to vote for him in the upcoming general ballot outside of the official campaign period.
Hun Sen has called for Cambodians to support him at the polls at nearly every public appearance he has made—including while speaking at events for factory workers, students, and civil servants—despite a law that allows campaigning only between July 7 and 27.