Op-Ed: Khmer Time
NGOs Out of Politics – PM’s Office
Manith Hun (L), deputy director of Prime Minister’s cabinet, argues that keeping NGOs out of political election campaigns creates a level playing field. He is seen here attending a 2012 ceremony in Phnom Penh. Photo: Reuters
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Proposed election legislation banning civil groups from election campaigning is being misinterpreted, says a close aide of the prime minister.
The bill refers to institutions and not to individuals working for local or international non-governmental organizations (NGOs or INGOs).
Manith Hun, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s deputy cabinet director, told Khmer Times that the new law is designed to protect voters from false information.
“This is because during the 2013 general election campaign period, there were several INGOs and NGOs which spread false information in order to influence public opinion, which had a great impact on voter’s decision as to which party they would vote for,” said Mr. Manith, 33, who entered the public sphere in 2012 when he ran a program of student volunteers measuring land for villagers.
“This was the same as the propaganda dished out by certain political parties while destroying the image of another,” he said.
Referring to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the prime ministers’advisor said: “In the case of the 2013 election, several of the latter destroyed the image of the government and of the CPP, while helping out the CNRP.”
The New Law Creates Fair Play
Mr Manith, who usually remains out of the public limelight, commented that the new law merely makes a level playing field for all political parties, as it requires the civil groups and NGOs to remain neutral and fair.
“However, as individuals working within the local and international NGOs, they can campaign for any party, as long as they do not use the titles of their institutions nor the institution’s banner,” Mr. Manith said.
“I also would like to add that nongovernmental organizations try very hard to say that they are neutral and independent while in reality, some of them are not neutral, and certainly none of them can claim to be independent,” he said.
Mr. Manith added that the reason these institutions and organizations could not be independent is simple. “They cannot operate without funding from their sponsors,” he said. “Most of the international and national nongovernmental organizations, as stated here, have taken orders from foreign governments in falsifying and magnifying the information in order to change the perception of the voters.”
He stressed that in even though the National Election Committee’s legislation will be law, he is equally sure that those INGOs and NGOs with hidden agendas will not follow it, and will not stay neutral.
Why Dual Citizenship?
Mr. Manith also expressed his bewilderment as to why the Cambodian Constitution allows dual citizenship for people with high responsibilities, namely Senators and members of the National Assembly.
“From what I have been made aware off, people with dual citizenship have responsibilities toward the countries they are citizen of,” he said. “No matter how well they try to say that they are doing this or doing that for Cambodia, they almost always reserve some of their allegiance for the other country in which they also hold citizenship.
“They don’t have 100 per cent commitment to help this country,” said the advisor, who was born in Phnom Penh. “If they truly did, why would they hesitate to become a full Cambodian citizen?”
“The fact remains that after the 2013 general election, there were many contacts with foreign government officials by the opposition leaders to get advice and orders, up to three or four times a week,” he added.
Advice from Foreigners at a Price
He also questioned whether any foreign government official would give advice to political parties in the best interest of Cambodia.
Their agenda, Mr. Manith pointed out, is to promote the best interest of their countries in Cambodia and the Asean region. “These foreign delegates mostly hold one citizenship and serve their own country and promote it without any second thought,” he said. “So why aren’t we doing the same?”
Mr. Manith also said the other question which arises is: Which country does one with dual citizenship serve?
“Your country? Which one?” he asked. “Almost every country in the world only allows one citizenship while being at this high level within the government, in order to fully commit himself or herself to work for the interest of the country they represent, in this case, Cambodia.”
Phay Siphan, spokesman at the Council of Ministers, said that civil groups should be neutral and independent in their views and not serve others to destabilize the country.
Pointing to Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Vice President Kem Sokha, he said that the Cambodia Center for Human Rights (CCHR) had received enormous contributions and donations from the International Republic Institute (IRI), when Mr. Sokha was president, from 2002 to 2007. Mr. Sokha used the Center as a launch pad for his entry into politics.
The CCHR remains an ardent critic of the government and is constantly pro-opposition in its views and opinions.
“As such, how could they claim to be a neutral member of the civil society in Cambodia? Their interests and their funder’s interest and sinister ploys of regime change are known throughout the world with many examples,” said Mr. Siphan.
He said the government found that some local and international NGOs did not directly join any political activities, but used their institutions as platforms to support political parties, which is against the spirit of remaining neutral.
NGO Voice Could be Unnecessary
Hung Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (NICFEC), said proper legislation would solve many of the problems that Cambodia currently faces. He said if all laws enacted in Cambodia were properly drafted, following the principles of democracy and international conventions, there would be no necessity for these institutions to be vocal in their objections or their boycott of any forum on political issues.
“However, almost all proposed draft laws have reduced or inhibited the role of these international and national nongovernmental organizations as members of civil society to play an active role in society,” he said. “This is against the principles of democracy, and that is the reason why these institutions did not agree with the proposed NEC law nor the repeated proposal to have a NGO Law.”