As Elections Near, Cambodia’s Democracy Stumbles
Image Credit: Siv Channa

As Elections Near, Cambodia’s Democracy Stumbles


Less than six weeks before national elections are set to be held in Cambodia, there are officially no opposition parliamentarians—they were summarily stripped of their membership by a 12-member committee made up entirely of representatives of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) earlier this month for alleged infractions of internal rules. You are also unlikely to see any of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s candidates for National Assembly on TV, as the state and CPP-friendly media owners have decided to allot only 30 minutes a day on one television station to non-ruling parties.

In his daily speeches broadcast across the nation on radio and television, Prime Minister Hun Sen has made sport of lobbing pot shots at the opposition party and its leaders while his CPP has refused to take part in debates and public forums prior to elections. In the provinces, CNRP organizers have complained of systematic disruptions of opposition campaign stops and destruction of their campaign signs.

The list of potential problems with Cambodia’s upcoming elections doesn’t end there. More than a million eligible voters will not be able to cast their ballot because their names do not appear on official voter roles, while about a million “ghost voters” – people who don’t actually exist – remain on the lists, according to research from U.S. nonprofit National Democratic Institute.

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CNRP President Sam Rainsy faces an 11-year jail sentence if he returns to the country and the party’s acting president, Kem Sokha, has recently been threatened with lawsuits and legal action for allegedly denying Khmer Rouge atrocities and for supposedly paying for sex with a 15-year-old girl, a charge made by Hun Sen in one of his speeches last week. The country’s election commission is stacked with members of the ruling party and refuses to heed calls for reform. Hun Sen’s government is determined to hold elections on July 28, but democracy in Cambodia seems to be falling apart.

The UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, has warned that, without reforms, the coming elections will not meet international standards of legitimacy. “There are major flaws in the administration of elections in Cambodia and urgent and longer-term reforms are needed to give Cambodians confidence in the electoral process and in the workings of the National Election Committee,” Subedi said in a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva last year.

But international calls for free and fair elections have brought about only adversarial responses from the administration of Hun Sen, which is showing no signs of cowing to pressure for reform. A U.S. State Department statement calling for the reinstatement of CNRP members of parliament and the inclusion of all political parties in free and fair elections earlier this month was called “colonial” by CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun, who asked that the American embassy in Phnom Penh relay a message to Washington that Cambodia would not be following the its advice.

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