Thousands of police officers will be deployed at voter registration stations in the coming months, prompting concerns from the opposition and rights groups that they could be used for intimidation.
The move was decided during a meeting between officials from the Interior Ministry and the National Election Committee (NEC) on Thursday. One of the senior officers on the police task force that will oversee the deployment, Dy Vichea, is the son-in-law of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
According to a statement from National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun, the deployment will be led by Deputy National Police Commissioner Kirth Chantharith.
During the meeting on Thursday, Savoeun said the forces will be used for “security and public order and safety for the registration process”, adding that they would also ensure that there was no intimidation or threats of violence related to the registration process.
However, Yim Sovann, an opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman said the deployment could have the reverse effect, leading registrants to feel intimidated.
“There's no need to use the armed forces,” he said.
Seak Bun Hok, NEC chairman, said the deployment, which he said he requested, would also be used to prevent demonstrations taking place.
“Irregularities caused demonstrations and my intention was to prevent these issues for our country,” he said. “Every election always has problems … but this time if we do this perhaps we can prevent it”.
Yoeung Sotheara of election monitor Comfrel said the deployment of armed guards at registration stations was normal, but if this plan was more extensive than usual it could lead people to “not come to vote or not dare to register to vote.”
Election registration opens on September 1 through November 29, with local elections scheduled for June 4, 2017, and a general election slated for July 2018.