Cambodia’s ruling party requested Friday that campaign rallies during elections be limited to just two days, drawing criticism from the opposition and poll watchdogs.
The proposal was made during talks aimed at forging electoral reforms between Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The move resulted in the reform talks being adjourned unexpectedly, with the CNRP seeking more time to “digest” the plan.
A local election watchdog meanwhile said that limiting rallies, which are normally allowed throughout the 30-day campaign period, would give the CPP an unfair advantage over other political parties.
“Limiting election campaign rallies will reduce traffic congestion and maintain social order,” Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who is also CPP working team chairman, told reporters after the meeting between the two parties at the National Assembly (parliament) building in the capital Phnom Penh.
The CPP wants campaign rallies to be held only on the first and last days of the election campaign, he said.
Other details of the proposal—including whether the CPP was seeking to limit the length of the 30-day campaign period—were not made public.
CNRP working team leader Kuy Bunroeun refused to speak with reporters about the CPP’s proposal, saying the opposition first needs time to consider it.
But he said he saw no reason to change the campaign law as it stands.
“The law [allowing rallies throughout the campaign period] is already good,” he said. “We don’t need to amend it.”
Head of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (NICFEC), Hang Puthea, told RFA’s Khmer Service that nongovernmental organizations were against amending the campaign law because it would affect the rights of political parties during the campaign period.
“If the election law [on campaigning] is amended, the small parties will be at risk,” he said.
“The election campaign must be open for public rallies according to the resources of the political parties.”
In May last year, the CPP swept elections for Cambodia’s provincial, municipal, and district councils, winning 2,543 seats to the CNRP’s 769, but the CNRP picked up 185 more seats than the opposition’s haul in the last local elections in 2009.
The CNRP’s gains in the local elections came on the heels of strides it made in general elections in July 2013, in which the CPP suffered its worst performance since 1998.
The National Election Committee, which oversees the country’s polls, had declared that the CPP won 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP has claimed it won at least 63 and boycotted the National Assembly for 10 months until the two sides agreed to pursue electoral reforms in July 2014.
Amid the increasing support for the opposition, observers say the CPP has tried to limit campaigning practices in a bid to maintain an advantage over the CNRP and Cambodia’s other smaller parties at the polls.
Ahead of the 2013 general elections, which the CNRP said were rigged, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the country’s military and police of partisan campaigning in favor of the CPP, which the group said created an intimidating atmosphere for voters.
“The fact that the Cambodian security forces act as a de facto wing of the CPP has disastrous effects on human rights and democratic processes,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said at the time, adding that playing such a role was “inconsistent with a free and fair election.”
Government officials lashed out at the Human Rights Watch report, saying security personnel have remained neutral while in uniform.
A group of 10 Cambodian NGOs also alleged that local authorities and village chiefs had been threatening supporters of non-CPP parties and routinely preventing them from joining opposition rallies ahead of the polls.
Reported by Ses Vansak for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.