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Cambodia imposes more poll bans on outlawed politicians

Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy is 'eliminated as an election candidate for 20-25 years'
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) shakes hands with supporters during a July 1 rally for the ruling Cambodian People's Party ahead of the upcoming election in Phnom Penh on July 23. Seventeen members of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party have been banned from appearing on voter lists at elections for up to 25 years following allegations they were encouraging voters to spoil ballot papers in the upcoming poll

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) shakes hands with supporters during a July 1 rally for the ruling Cambodian People's Party ahead of the upcoming election in Phnom Penh on July 23. Seventeen members of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party have been banned from appearing on voter lists at elections for up to 25 years following allegations they were encouraging voters to spoil ballot papers in the upcoming poll. (Photo: AFP)

Published: July 18, 2023 06:44 AM GMT
Updated: July 18, 2023 07:34 AM GMT

Seventeen members of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) have been banned from appearing on voter lists at elections for up to 25 years following allegations they were encouraging voters at this Sunday’s national poll to spoil their ballots.

Among them was CNRP leader in exile Sam Rainsy, whose name was banned from ballot papers for 25 years by the Provincial/Capital Election Commission (PEC) and fined US$5,000.

Senior CNRP figure Mu Sochua was banned for 20 years and fined $2,500.

Cambodian authorities have claimed CNRP figures were encouraging people not to vote or to spoil their paper ballot papers to protest against this election which only the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) can win after a relentless, long running crackdown on dissent.

The CNRP was banned from contesting the 2018 poll enabling the CPP to win all 125 seats in the National Assembly. The Candlelight Party (CLP) then emerged from the remnants of the CNRP as the main opposition party and it was disqualified from competing at the 2023 election.

More than a hundred CNRP supporters have been rounded-up and charged with treason and incitement. Some were jailed, Others, like Sam Rainsy, fled abroad and have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in absentia and will be jailed if they return.

The PEC said it had held “a hearing on the indictment of the 17 masterminds of the extremist opposition group that led the movement to cast the spoiling of ballots … their names removed from the voters list and their rights to stand as an election candidate eliminated for 20-25 years.”

Four CLP officials have also been arrested for allegedly inciting spoiled ballots over recent days.

Authorities here are urging people to turnout and vote on Sunday amid fears that voter numbers could fall in response to the disqualification of the CLP by the National Election Committee (NEC) for lodging incorrect paperwork.

“It has been 16 days since the start of the election campaign, and all the participating political parties have been campaigning actively and happily as if the campaign is a joyful festival," Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Sunday.

He added he would “like to take this opportunity to call on all citizens, who have registered to vote, to go to the polls on Sunday.”

One provincial governor said that "all journalists should urge the people on the NEC’s voter list to go to the polls to demonstrate the good practical implementation of multi-party liberal democracy in Cambodia."

However, Western nations and human rights groups have sharply criticized the Cambodian government in the lead-up to the election for its relentless pursuit of dissidents which Hun Sen has claimed were out to topple his government.

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