PHNOM PENH - In Cambodia, a petition containing more than 170,000 thumbprints from people who express deep concerns over ongoing political turmoil is now being investigated by the government for possible fraud.
Cambodia's Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced Thursday that the government is creating a working group to determine the authenticity of thousands of thumbprints attached to the petition the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) submitted to the Royal Palace on Monday.
The CNRP said those who signed the petition want King Norodom Sihamoni, the country's largely symbolic king, to intervene in the ongoing political turmoil that some worry will plunge the country once more into violence.
But now officials in the ruling party, which has been in power since 1979, say they will create a group that will conduct in-person interviews with people listed on the petition to determine whether they had, in fact, signed it themselves.
Kheng said the working group would be named the "Investigation and Examination of Thumbprints Given by the Citizens to Petitions of the Cambodia National Rescue Party."
‘Waste of money’
Yim Sovann, a CNRP spokesman, said the government is wasting resources that would be better spent on issues such as border protection and poverty reduction.
"All these issues are the issues that we have to think about, while [the petition] is an issue between the people and the king," he said, adding that the petitioners were exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Gen. Khieu Sopheak, Ministry of Interior spokesman, could not be reached for comment. On Wednesday, Sopheak told VOA Khmer that if CNRP officials are found to have submitted forged thumbprints, the party would be culpable for "immoral activities" and defrauding the monarchy.
Meas Ny, a social development researcher, said the formation of the working group was an attempt to take revenge on the opposition party and would only make the situation more tense.
"I think this is just a waste of taxpayer money, taxpayers like me, on a useless activity that [the government] thinks is a major issue," he said.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.