Southeast Asian parliamentarians write to six Western parliaments as another 21 opposition supporters sued ahead of poll
Supporters of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) participate in a campaign rally on July 1 ahead of the upcoming election in Phnom Penh. Cambodians go to the polls on July 23. (Photo: AFP)
Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia have written to six Western parliaments demanding strong action be taken against Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen amid a rapid deterioration of democratic standards ahead of the July 23 election.
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) in a letter — addressed to the parliaments of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand — said, “Hun Sen appears determined to drive the final nail into the coffin of Cambodia’s democracy.”
“Cambodia is continuing on its descent into authoritarianism, which is of great concern not only to the people of Cambodia and the region, but also to the international community,” it said.
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Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is widely expected to win all 125 seats in the National Parliament following the disqualification of the opposition Candlelight Party (CLP) amid a six-year crackdown on dissent, many arrests and the closure of independent media.
“Elections held under the present circumstances cannot possibly be free and fair,” APHR said, “nor should any government created from such elections be recognized as legitimate by the international community.”
The APHR letter was released as the CPP, led by Ky Tech, filed a complaint to the National Election Committee (NEC), suing another 21 opposition members for inciting people to cast spoiled ballots.
"The authoritarian nature of Hun Sen is not impacted by words or morality, only action"
“Following the failure to block people from going to vote, extremist group leader Sam Rainsy and his followers recently launched another campaign to cast the spoiled ballot,” the government mouthpiece Fresh News reported.
The government and the NEC have mounted a concerted pre-election campaign aimed at “encouraging” people to vote while limiting any protest through calls for an election boycott and ballot spoiling.
Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who now lives in exile, faces a life sentence should he return to Cambodia for plotting to oust Hun Sen. On Monday, his name was among 17 others banned from appearing on ballot papers for the next 20 to 25 years.
Western countries have refrained from sending election observers for Sunday’s poll and have sharply criticized government actions ahead of the election, including the closure of independent media outlet Voice of Democracy (VOD) in February.
“While we appreciate the attention to the anti-democratic actions of the Cambodian government and the decision to not send official observers, the authoritarian nature of Hun Sen is not impacted by words or morality, only action,” APHR said.
“We, therefore, urge you to take stronger actions to deny legitimacy to the July elections as it is becoming increasingly clear that Hun Sen is intent on using the elections as just another tool to consolidate his power,” it added.
Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for almost four decades and is widely expected to transfer power to his eldest son Hun Manet after this election. Some diplomats have said this could happen by early September.
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