Army to Guard Voting Stations
Voters in next year’s elections will now have to make their choices under the watchful eye of the army after the government issued a decree yesterday establishing permanent military forces at national and sub-national election sites between 2016 and 2019.
According to the decree, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 17, army commanders will be stationed at voting sites to “monitor and manage the use of force” and “ensure that the process is conducted with security, public order and safety without fear, threats and violence.”
General Neth Savoeun, chief general director of the National Police, posted the edict to his Facebook page yesterday and said it had the support of Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Defense Minister General Tea Banh and many other ministers, generals and provincial governors.
The army will play an important role, the decree said, in “ensuring” that the preparation of voter lists and voter registration runs smoothly.
“The permanent security commander has the right to use the seal of the Council of Ministers to fulfill its functions and duties,” the decree read.
Army units will be at the beck and call of provincial governors across the country, and the decree says police officers, military forces and RCAF soldiers based in each province will prepare for the elections based on plans created for each province.
“Any provisions contrary to this decree will be treated as an abrogation,” the decree added.
Mr. Hun Sen has repeatedly said the government and military must remain neutral when it comes to elections and political parties, telling a crowd of 2,500 students in April 2013 that he had “requested all levels of the government, public servants and armed forces to remain neutral from now until election day.”
But his actions since then have refuted that statement, with the premier promoting his sons to senior positions in the country’s armed forces. A number of former soldiers have also been implicated in crimes committed against the opposition party.
Three soldiers in Mr. Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit were convicted of the vicious beating of two Cambodia National Rescue Party politicians outside the National Assembly. A former soldier has been accused of shooting and killing prominent government critic Kem Ley at a gas station coffee shop on July 10.
National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Hang Puthea said the decree was made in cooperation with the army because the NEC was unable to organize voting stations on its own.
Despite asking the army for help, Mr. Puthea said the soldiers would not have any effect on voting itself.
“The permanent security commander for voting registration protection does not impact the NEC,” he said.
Kol Panha, president of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said the NEC and the army need to flesh out how the situation will work, as it is the NEC’s responsibility to manage the election. It is the NEC’s job, Mr. Panha said, to maintain safety at voting registration sites, and in order for the deal to be accepted, both parties must be transparent about how the army will be involved.
“The problem is that the management of forces these days in our country is not transparent, independent or reliable. We have so many problems and we do not actively practice the political party law, which says the armed forces must not belong to any political party.
“If the armed forces become a tool of the party officials, it affects the law,” he said.
“It will make people scared.”
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