Cambodia approves election law amendment aimed at preventing boycott of July 23 vote

Move prohibits those who don’t vote from running in future elections.
By RFA Khmer
2023.06.23
Cambodia approves election law amendment aimed at preventing boycott of July 23 vote Cambodian lawmakers raise their hands to approve amending the country’s election law at the National Assembly, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on June 23, 2023.
Credit: De Ratha/Cambodia National Assembly via AP

Cambodia’s National Assembly on Friday unanimously approved an amendment to the election law that prohibits those who don’t vote in next month’s elections from running for office in future elections. 

The change appears to be aimed at preventing a large-scale boycott of the July 23 vote by supporters of the main opposition Candlelight Party. 

A boycott would be a way of expressing public anger over the National Election Committee’s decision in May to ban the party from running in the election – essentially blocking the only major party that could challenge Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

The committee blamed the ban on inadequate paperwork, but opposition activists said it was politically motivated. They pointed out that they were allowed to compete in last year’s local commune elections with the same documentation. 

The ban, which was upheld by the Constitutional Council on May 25, means that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won’t have any major challengers on the ballot next month. More than a dozen minor parties have also qualified for the ballot.

ENG_KHM_CPPAmendment_06232023.2.jpg
Cambodian lawmakers welcome President Heng Samrin as he arrives for a session at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on June 23, 2023. Credit: Heng Sinith/Associated Press

Not a surprise

The result of Friday’s vote in the Assembly, which is made up only of members from the CPP, was not a surprise. All 111 parliamentarians who participated in the session voted to approve the amendment without objections.

Anyone who doesn’t vote next month won’t be able to run as a candidate in next year’s Senate, district and commune elections, according to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng. They also won’t be able to run in the next general election scheduled for 2028, he said.

The amendment also allows for the prosecution of individuals and parties who discourage people from voting, he said in a speech at the Assembly before the final vote.

“The amendment will regulate those who want to run for offices. It won’t affect voters’ rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.  

Hun Sen first proposed the change to the law earlier this month. 

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, said earlier this month that Hun Sun is trying to pressure people to vote because he thinks a high voter percentage will bring legitimacy to the election.

Finland-based political analyst Kim Sok said Friday’s amendment will affect opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has been living in exile in France since 2015, and many of his supporters, who also live outside of Cambodia and won’t be able to return to vote in person. 

“The amendment doesn’t serve the country’s interest,” he said. “It is being done according to one person’s wish.”

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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