Election security pushed

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
National Police officials attend an event on Tuesday in Kandal province where Interior Minister Sar Kheng urged authorities to bolster security ahead of upcoming elections. Photo supplied

As an intensive riot control course for 100 provincial police officers in Kratie province kicked off this week, Interior Minister Sar Kheng urged security personnel to prepare for upcoming elections, pointing to their performance during the 2013 national ballot as a positive benchmark because nobody was killed on election day.

An Interior Ministry spokesman yesterday echoed the need for strong security, saying failure to provide such could condemn the Kingdom to “the same fate as Syria”.

Kheng, a deputy prime minister and head of an inter-ministerial committee overseeing election security, spoke on Tuesday at the National Police academy in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, directing his remarks to all provincial and municipal authorities, political parties and the public.

“Our police force will work hard and must work hard to fulfill their work well and keep security for the election, like in 2013 . . . because at that time there were no people killed during the election even though political parties, politicians and people attacked each other with words and phrases,” Kheng said.

However, Sam Kuntheamy, the director of election monitor Nicfec, yesterday disputed Kheng’s appraisal of the security forces’ performance. “During the previous national election the security was not well done,” Kuntheamy said.

Polling day in 2013 saw police fail to stop mobs of opposition supporters who confronted and obstructed voters they accused of being Vietnamese, an issue which led to one major outbreak of violence in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district where rioters overturned two military vehicles.

“During election day this time, the Interior Ministry, National Election Committee and Ministry of National Defence should strictly provide security, and in cases where there are violations, then they should take immediate action,” Kuntheamy said.

However, Kuntheamy said he doubted the commune ballot would spark violence requiring a security force crackdown and called for the government to set strict standards to avoid voter intimidation by security personnel, who have often been accused of campaigning openly for the ruling party.

The government last year announced it would dispatch roughly 76,000 police, gendarmes and army troops to monitor the June election. Speaking yesterday, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday a security presence was essential to avoid conflict.

“Without being able to mobilise the army, Cambodia may have the same fate as Syria,” Sopheak said.

“If we could not control the situation in 2013, our country today would be like Syria or Libya.”

Speaking yesterday, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Cheam Channy said the comparison to Syria, where an uprising in 2011 has led to a sustained civil war and left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, was erroneous.

“Demonstrating is the right of the people as stated in the law,” he said. “Syria is different from Cambodia. We have no intent to have a revolution.”

Also on Tuesday in Kratie province, about 100 officers from provincial, district and border units began a 45-day training course focused on confronting protests, according to Kratie deputy provincial police chief Pech Savang.

“We train morning and afternoon about eight hours per day,” Savang said.

“There are many lessons and we do not only focus on cracking down [on protests] but that is the main subject. [The skills taught] include using a shield, cracking down on protesters and how [officers] protect themselves.”

Kratie provincial governor Sar Chamrong denied the training was connected to upcoming elections.“These are police skills … It is normal,” he said.

Cambodian security forces have been regularly accused of using heavy-handed tactics against protesters. Six people were killed by security forces during protests in the months that followed the disputed results of the last national ballot.