The National Election Committee said it will take legal action against any calls for boycott of the upcoming national election, a likely response to some opposition members and activists calling for Candlelight supporters to stay away from the ballot boxes.
The NEC disqualified the Candlelight Party last month from competing in the July election for not having the correct documents in their application. This decision was upheld at the Constitutional Council, making it the second consecutive election where the only competitive opposition party is not on the ballot.
The election body released a statement on Tuesday threatening legal action against anyone calling for a boycott of the election, preventing people from voting or encouraging voters to spoil their ballots.
It said the Law on the Election of National Assembly Members and the NEC law prohibits calls for a boycott or causing confusion over the electoral process.
NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea said calling for a boycott could prevent people from voting and that local authorities were being instructed to take action against any such campaign.
“NEC will complain to the competent authorities to review all the campaigns that demonstrate incitement to prevent people from voting, especially during this time period. They have to respond with the law,” Puthea said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen echoed the NEC in a speech on Wednesday. He said the election body should take action against any calls for boycott.
“The National Election Committee must take action against those who have obstructed the implementation of people’s right [to vote],” he said at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Phnom Penh-Bavet expressway.
The NEC’s statement is similar to the government’s threat to take legal action against people participating in the 2018 “clean finger” campaign run by exiled members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party — which was dissolved in 2017 — where party supporters were encouraged to boycott the election or spoil their ballot.
The 2018 election results showed that the Cambodian People’s Party won with 4.8 million votes. But aside from CPP votes, there were more invalid ballots than any other party’s vote tally, accounting for around 8.5% of total ballots cast.
The NEC in 2018 fined at least 30 opposition supporters for partaking in the campaign.
While the NEC did not explicitly name anyone for calling for a boycott, a few Candlelight supporters and members have posted photos and messages on Facebook in the last week saying they will not vote in the upcoming election.
Chham Channy, an opposition supporter who lives overseas and is a frequent critic of the government, posted multiple photos of people holding signs saying they will not vote because the NEC disqualified Candlelight. He also shared a video purportedly of Cambodian workers in Thailand who say in unison they will not vote because Candlelight was kept out of the election by the NEC.
In a June 4 post, Channy wrote that he will “not go to vote because there is no Candlelight Party.”
Candlelight commune councilor Pal Kep, who was elected from Koh Kong province last year, posted on Facebook this week that he would not vote because his party was not on the ballot. His post did not call for a wider boycott.
“I am not going to vote because no law can force me to vote. And how can I vote because my party does not exist on the ballot,” he told CamboJA on Wednesday.
However, he deleted the post on Wednesday after listening to Hun Sen’s speech.
“I deleted [the clip] today because after I heard the top leader saying that this was a serious issue, that scared [me] about my security and safety,” he said.
Another group called the Global Cambodian Youth Network (GCYN), which is likely linked to exiled CNRP activists, posted on Facebook on May 31: “All Khmer people please spoil the ballot because there is no [political] party that you like.”
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director at election monitor Nicfec, said that while he disagreed with calls for a boycott, it was up to voters to make their own decisions.
He said that it was likely that these calls would only come from overseas because it could be a security risk for someone living in the country to issue a boycott.
“I think that citizens inside the country will not spread this message because they know about their security and safety,” Kuntheamy said.
At the same groundbreaking ceremony, Hun Sen claimed that he had information that former CNRP president Sam Rainsy would try to use his French passport to enter Cambodia through neighboring Vietnam.
He asked the Vietnamese government to arrest Rainsy “for me” by using an existing extradition treaty, adding that it could turn into a diplomatic issue if he was not arrested.
“If he enters and if they do not arrest, there will be problems with each other,” he said.
Reached on Wednesday, Rainsy did not answer if he planned to enter Vietnam using his French passport.
“I wonder why I am always in Hun Sen’s thoughts. He should instead concentrate on how to improve the well-being of the Khmer people,” he said in a Twitter direct message.
Last week, Hun Sen claimed that Rainsy had been expelled from Malaysia after he made a request to Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. But Rainsy posted photos of him meeting overseas Cambodians and Malaysian legislators, a meeting that was confirmed by Malaysian parliamentarian Wong Chen.
(Additional reporting by Hel Komsan and Ananth Baliga)