Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned that anyone who accused the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of stealing votes would face legal action, as he aimed to erase what appeared to be the common trend of the accusations being made following every election.
The warnings came after the former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, and senior Candlelight Party leader Son Chhay made mention of vote-buying and voter fraud.
At the December 22 inauguration of a two new roads in Preah Sihanouk province, Hun Sen said that the CPP was accused of stealing ballots after every election, which risked branding his party as thieves.
He added that in order to end these tired accusations, which followed each election, it was necessary to sue anyone who laid these accusations against the CPP.
“Otherwise, we will be branded as thieves forever. If we are wrongly accused, the perpetrators must may compensatory damages. In this way, we will erase these repetitive performances from the culture of the opposition,” he said.
“For example, after the June 5 commune council election ended at 3pm, vote counting began. All relevant parities counted the votes together, but certain individuals still accused the CPP of stealing votes,” he added.
He did not mention the accuser by name, but appeared to be referring to Candlelight Party vice-president Son Chhay, who alleged that the election was bought and rigged, while taking part in a radio interview.
Ky Tech, a lawyer for the CPP, and the Natonal Election Committee (NEC), brought defamation cases against Son Chhay through the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The Court delivered two verdicts again him on October 7. He filed an appeal with the Phnom Penh Appeal Court, which upheld the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan agreed with Hun Sen’s suggestion, saying that if they discovered irregularities in the NEC electoral process, all party representatives and political activists had the right to file a complaint, which would resolve the issue.
Announcing that the election was rigged or that the CPP had somehow stolen votes was helpful to Cambodia’s democratic progress,” he said.
“This is not exercising the right to free expression. It slanders us and discredits our party, which is offensive,” he added.
Eysan called on future critics to review the Constitution before expressing their opinions, in case they affected the rights of others, public order, or the political stability of the Kingdom.
Candlelight Party spokesman Thach Setha said the truth was that the integrity of the elections could only be based on their transparency, not the opinions of any one individual.
“Usually, in any democratic society, every citizen has the right to raise or express his or her opinions when they are unhappy or dissatisfied. This is nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.
“If Son Chhay's law suit was designed to erase a culture of post-election slander, there was no need to sue for $1 million in compensatory damages. It was hardly slander – we politicians are always spouting rhetoric about any irregularities that we are not satisfied with,” he added.
Royal Academy of Cambodia secretary-general Yang Peou understood that Hun Sen was merely defending his party’s winning position.
“This serves as a lesson for other politicians and other activists. Before criticising anyone, we should think carefully about the law and whether we are stepping outside of our freedom of expression. If we break the law, we will be punished according to the law, and this is true for all of us,” he added.
He continued that it is better to use legal political mechanisms to try to affect change rather than violent political rhetoric and actions – like mobilising protesters, which created social unrest and could lead to a colour revolution.
Em Sovannara, a professor of political science and an analyst, said that in order to reduce or eliminate the number of people who challenged election outcomes, the NEC must ensure that the process is free, fair and transparent. This would guarantee credible elections.