Cambodians vote in local elections amid intimidation and threats

Cambodians headed to the polls on Sunday in local elections which are their first chance to vote since longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party won a 2018 general election that was widely criticized as unfair.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party is poised for yet another easy victory after what the UN Human Rights Office on Thursday described as “threats, intimidation and obstruction aimed at political candidates.” opposition”.

“Candidates have faced numerous restrictions and reprisals that have hampered their activities, with the imprisonment of a number of candidates which appears intended to curb political campaigning,” the agency said.

He added that at least six opposition candidates and activists were in detention four days before the election, awaiting trial, while others summoned for political reasons had gone into hiding.

Cambodians line up to vote at a polling station in Takhmua, Kandal province, southeast of Phnom Penh (Heng Sinith/AP)

The Cambodian delegation to the UN offices in Geneva said in a statement that the criticism was “erroneous, politicized and selective”.

He said that “all political parties, including those in the opposition, fully exercised their rights in accordance with the laws and registered timetables without any threats or obstruction.”

Hun Sen and his wife cast their ballots in Kandal province, near the capital, Phnom Penh, on Sunday morning.

Hun Sen, an authoritarian leader in a nominally democratic state, has been in power for 37 years. He said he intended to stay in office until 2028 and endorsed one of his sons to succeed him.

His party is the only one to field candidates nationwide in the 1,652 municipalities. Its only serious rival, the Candlelight Party, has candidates in 1,632 townships, and the royalist party FUNCINPEC has challengers in 688 townships. There are a total of 82,786 candidates from 17 political parties with 9.2 million registered voters.

Local elections take place a year before general elections and are seen as a test of party strength.

Communal election in Cambodia
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany (Heng Sinith/AP)

In the last communal elections of 2017, the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, made an unexpected performance, which led Hun Sen’s government to suppress it and the independent media.

The party was dissolved by the Supreme Court on a charge of treason, widely seen as politically motivated, and the free press was driven out of business or bullied into submission.

Without the Cambodian National Rescue Party on the ballot, Hun Sen’s party was assured victory in the following year’s general election.

Several Western countries imposed sanctions on the government after concluding that the 2018 elections were neither free nor fair. The harshest measure came from the European Union, which withdrew some preferential trade privileges.

The dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, whose incumbent members were also ousted from political office, remains outlawed, with most of its key leaders in exile.

Communal election in Cambodia
A police officer places his ballot in a ballot box (Heng Sinith/AP)

The Candlelight Party now seeks to challenge the ruling party by rallying its former supporters, although its activities have remained severely curtailed.

The original Candlelight Party was founded in 1995 by Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen’s main political rival, and later integrated into the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Sam Rainsy, a victim of legal harassment, has gone into exile in France, and the co-founder of Cambodia’s National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, is currently on trial for barely substantiated treason.

About Jerry Richter

Check Also

Scottish singer-songwriter Rab Noakes dies aged 75

Scottish singer-songwriter Rab Noakes has died aged 75. Noakes died Friday in hospital after a …