Prime Minister Hun Sen said it was not wrong for him to thank people across the country for voting his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) during his recent tour of flood-afflicted provinces.

The premier was responding to critics who claimed that he was campaigning before the official election campaign in the lead-up to the 2023 general election.

While distributing rice seed to over 6,000 households in Prey Veng province on October 30, he specifically extended his thanks to people for voting his party in the last commune council elections, which resulted in the CPP winning by a landslide.

“I am really proud that my leadership has garnered wide support of our people. I strongly hope that they will continue to vote for the CPP in the upcoming election,” he said.

Hun Sen reiterated that thanking and encouraging people to vote for his party again in the next election was nothing unusual.

“Yesterday [October 29], I watched a video on a Youtube channel which commented that Hun Sen seemed to be campaigning for the election early, but all I did was say a word of thanks to the people who voted for the CPP. Calling on them to do so again is normal because we’re actually governing the country because those people voted for us, so if I just say a word of thanks for that, what’s wrong with that?

“You also campaign constantly; it’s just that you go around whispering every day, while I speak into the microphone and broadcast it live on television,” he said, in reference to critics from parties outsides of the government.

“You would do the same if you could, but you can’t because you haven’t gained power yet. If you want to follow suit, then try winning first,” he said.

Cambodian Reform Party (CRP) vice-president Ou Chanrath said that Hun Sen using official events and public forums to campaign was not lawful.

“The prime minister goes to the event as the head of the government, the leader of Cambodia, not the leader of his party. As far as this campaigning goes, I think that it is wrong. If he goes to attend a party event as the party leader, that’s okay. But he’s doing this as the prime minister, so it does have consequences when it comes to the law,” said Chanrath, who is formerly a senior lawmaker of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Chanrath said that campaigning at events is a misuse of state resources and a violation of the law on political parties, though he acknowledged that it is not uncommon for other parties to do so.

“In general I see other parties going and doing this sort of election campaign work as well. It’s nothing new; it’s just that this is a forum provided by the government, and not the party,” he said.

Chanrath added that if the CPP is going to campaign, it should do so without using state resources. In this case, he said the prime minister had gone to the events along with members of the armed forces, police officers and government officials, all of whom were attending in a professional capacity and therefore it did amount to the misuse of state resources.

He said his CRP had done some outreach work at the grassroots level to organise the party’s structure and prepare for the next election, but they had not yet made any public appeals to the constituents.

“I have not yet carried out any activities like that because the election campaign period hasn’t started yet. But we’ve gotten ourselves organised and built our party’s structure, which is normal,” he added.

National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Som Sorida said that when it comes to political parties, there are two laws that apply. The first is the law on political parties which he said allows parties to carry out some political activities outside of the campaign period.

“Hence, the activities of the prime minister are lawful. Other political parties could carry out their political activities, but they have to notify the relevant authorities. The authorities were notified of the activities of the premier,” he added.

Sorida also noted that in the first 10 days of voter list review and registration for 2022, there have been 138,492 new registrations nationwide, while 83,957 people have had their names removed from the list, another 9,175 people have had their data corrected and 43,237 people relocated to new communes.

The voter list review and registration period runs until December 8 of this year, and voters can check their name on the list or make changes during regular business hours any day of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays, to ensure their eligibility to vote in the next national election, which is scheduled for July 23, 2023.