Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 13 declared that some of the Constitution’s election-related clauses would be amended in response to an overseas opposition group launching a social media campaign urging eligible voters to abstain from the July 23 general election.
The amendments will require anyone standing for public office in the future to participate in at least one election following the promulgation of the proposed amendments.
The remarks came as Hun Sen met with nearly 20,000 workers in Por Sen Chey district, Phnom Penh. He instructed Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and Minister of Justice Koeut Rith to prepare the necessary amendments and submit them to the National Assembly for approval as soon as possible.
The social media campaign calling for election boycott was initiated on June 11 by Ry Kea, an overseas member of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“I will not go to vote. It is my right. If I am still forced to vote, I will scribble on the ballot,” he wrote.
His appeal came with a swift response from Hun Sen who stressed: “I ask you not to back down at all – continue with your campaign. When we amend the election laws in the next few days, we will reform the eligibility requirements of candidates who want to stand for election.”
“We will take our cue from Thailand, where a political party lost 18 parliamentarians as they failed to cast their ballots,” he added.
“If you fail to vote in the July 23 election, you have no right to stand for a commune council post, a town and district or provincial council post, or as a senator or parliamentarian in 2028,” he continued.
Hun Sen explained that the government will amend Articles 35 and 36 of Constitution. It will not deprive any citizens of their right to vote, but requiring those who want to stand in future elections to cast their ballots.
“Don’t forget that despite the upcoming campaign season, the National Assembly can still be convened to amend these articles at any time. If you do not vote in this election, you will have no right to stand in future elections. I am making this very clear,” he said.
He also called on National Assembly president Heng Samrin to accelerate the amendments.
In a June 12 audio message to the public, Hun Sen said that the government respected the rights of the people, and that it was up to them if they would vote or not.
“Those who stand in an election must be responsible citizens, and play their part in our democracy by exercising their right to vote,” he added.
“Those who fail to participate in the democratic process for no good legal reason will be deemed to have lost the right to become candidates in future elections. However, they will still have the right to vote as a private citizen,” he explained.
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), told The Post on June 13 that the amendments made sense to him, and noted that they would have no effect on the voting public.
“This amendment seems appropriate,” he added.
He said that calling on people not to participate in the upcoming election ran counter to the rules and procedures of the election law. He noted that it was still the right of any member of the public to decide whether they wanted to vote or not, and that the proposed amendment would merely stifle the rights of potential future candidates.
National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Hang Puthea told The Post on June 13 that the NEC is not a law-making branch of government.
“If the National Assembly approves a law, the NEC will follow their decision, and not object to it. It is the government’s rights to request amendments to various laws,” he said.