Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia condemned what they described as a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” against the political opposition in Cambodia ahead of the country’s elections on Sunday, June 5.
“It is impossible to hold free and fair elections in an ongoing climate of persecution against the opposition,” said Maria Chin Abdullah, member of parliament in Malaysia and a member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
She said that even if 17 parties have been authorized to run, “these polls cannot be regarded as an exercise in pluralism and democracy” if Prime Minister Hun Sen does not allow the opposition “to campaign freely and safely.”
Cambodians prepare to vote for their representatives at the local level in 1,652 communes throughout the country.
Candidates of the Candlelight Party, the main formation in the opposition and the only one positioned to challenge the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, have reported harassments of their ranks in recent months.
The party reported that on May 31, authorities arrested Ir Channa, a former Cambodian activist and naturalized Norwegian citizen, who returned from exile and reportedly joined political activities associated with the Candlelight Party. Channa was charged with conspiracy to commit treason.
The opposition party also complained on the decision of the National Election Committee to remove more than 100 candidates, leaving the ruling party with no serious competitors.
In a statement, APHR said the campaign of intimidation against the Candlelight Party includes the alleged vandalization and removal of its signs in several provinces and the filing of trumped-up charges against many of their candidates.
“The intimidation of the opposition we are witnessing now is nothing new,” said APHR’s Abdullah. “It is part of a long pattern in which Hun Sen and his party have maintained and increased their control over Cambodia,” she said.
“This does not bode well for the future of democracy in Cambodia. The outcome of this local election will pave the way for next year’s national elections and will determine who will control the country’s overall political power,” Abdullah added.
She called on the international community to “maintain a critical eye on the country’s electoral developments and not be fooled into believing that the elections this Sunday will be a democratic exercise.”