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Cheering Cambodia's Strongman

 
 

PHNOM PENH – International observers and rights groups may not be convinced that tomorrow’s elections in Cambodia are free or fair after the country’s main opposition party was forcibly dissolved last year, but that has not stopped strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen from trying to get out the vote.

With the legitimacy of his new government on the line, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) held a massive rally in Phnom Penh on Friday in a flash of democratic showmanship. Tens of thousands of supporters arrived in the capital, dressed in white shirts and hats, to stand firmly behind a leader who has been in power for more than three decades.

Following a shocking near loss in 2013 to the previously exiled then-opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Hun Sen began a full-press assault on democratic institutions that had been in place since the early 1990s. Among those now silenced or shuttered include political opponents, independent media, and advocacy groups, including the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute.

Still, the autocratic ruler on Friday hailed the moves as necessary for the stability of Cambodia lest the country find itself “in a situation of war.”

While the crackdown on independent voices has triggered near universal condemnation from observers, Hun Sen’s authoritarian tendencies have not detracted the party faithful, who point to Cambodia’s meteoric economic growth over Hun Sen’s 33-year rule. These supporters were out in full force Friday, chanting their ruler’s name through bullhorns on the back of motorbikes and calling on fellow Cambodians to vote CPP.

These are a few pictures of what transpired as Cambodia gets ready to vote in what many believe to be one of its most oppressive elections in years.

Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
CPP supporters pose for a photo on their way to the July 27 campaign rally.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Flag-waving supporters make their way to Koh Pich in Phnom Penh to hear Hun Sen speak.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
The CPP estimated that 250,000 people would be in attendance on Friday.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
CPP supporters parade through the streets of Phnom Penh.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
CPP signage and balloons on Koh Pich.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Parading CPP supporters taking a picture together ahead of Hun Sen’s speech.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Supporters waiting for their leader to speak.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Despite his attacks on democratic institutions, Hun Sen is still seen as very popular in the countryside.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Supporters carrying CPP flags parade in Phnom Penh.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
CPP supporters cheer their leader during Friday’s rally.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Hun Sen hailed his attack on the CNRP as necessary for the stability of the country.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Hun Sen shakes hands with supporters after his speech.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Supporters heading home following Friday’s rally.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
CPP supporters gathered on Norodom Road in the heart of Phnom Penh.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
Cheering Cambodia's Strongman
Crowds on July 27 were in the tens of thousands.
Image Credit: Philip Heijmans
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