Cambodia readies for election as critics call for boycott

Cambodian National Election Committee officials yesterday preparing a ballot box at a polling station in Phnom Penh. Cambodia's sixth national assembly elections are being held today.
Cambodian National Election Committee officials yesterday preparing a ballot box at a polling station in Phnom Penh. Cambodia's sixth national assembly elections are being held today.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PM Hun Sen expected to win easily even as UN, some in West question poll's credibility

PHNOM PENH • At the Toul Kork Primary School in the Cambodian capital, volunteers swept classrooms and laid out wooden desks yesterday, transforming rooms into polling booths ahead of a general election Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to easily win.

"I believe voters will come out to vote," the school's election committee head Yos Vanthan told Reuters.

Mr Hun Sen's critics have called for an election boycott, saying that without any real opposition to the government, the poll will be a sham.

Voting is not mandatory, but the authorities have warned that anyone who boycotts the vote will be seen as a "traitor".

Nineteen political parties are running against Mr Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) but none are strongly critical of the Prime Minister or the government.

His main challenge, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which narrowly lost the last election in 2013, was dissolved by the Supreme Court last year and many of its lawmakers banned from politics for five years.

Many CNRP leaders have fled abroad and are living in self-imposed exile and its leader, Kem Sokha, was jailed in September on treason charges, leaving Mr Hun Sen - who has ruled for 33 years and is the world's longest-serving prime minister - with no significant opponent.

Cambodian officials say they do not expect any violence on election day, but last week the authorities put on a show of power, with police displaying anti-riot gear and assault rifles in the capital in a move meant to discourage any street protests.

Police yesterday arrested four farmers and accused them of planting a grenade at a polling station in the country's northern Preah Vihear province, provincial police chief Ying Samnang said. The device did not explode.

Some Western countries and the United Nations have questioned the credibility of the election. Critics, including exiled opposition members, have called for targeted sanctions against Mr Hun Sen's government.

Last Wednesday, the United States House of Representatives passed the Cambodia Democracy Act, paving the way for sanctions to be imposed against Mr Hun Sen's inner circle.

Some Cambodians see no point in voting and a low voter turnout could undermine the CPP's claims to legitimacy.

"Why should I vote? It makes no difference," said a taxi driver from the south-western province of Takeo. He declined to be named for fear of repercussions.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 29, 2018, with the headline 'Cambodia readies for election as critics call for boycott'. Print Edition | Subscribe