Hun Sen orders election law change six weeks ahead of national vote

The move comes as opposition activists push for a boycott of the July 23 parliamentary election.
By RFA Khmer
Hun Sen orders election law change six weeks ahead of national vote Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of an expressway from Phnom Penh to Bavet city in Svay Rieng province on the Cambodia-Vietnam border, in Phnom Penh on June 7, 2023.
Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed his government to speed up a draft election law amendment that would ban any politicians from running for office if they don’t vote in next month’s parliamentary election.

Amendments to two articles in the election law would prohibit those who don’t vote on July 23 from ever running for any commune, district, provincial, Senate or National Assembly office, he said at a public gathering with workers in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. 

“If you dare not vote, you won’t be able to run for councilors or Senate,” he said. “You will be done.”

The move appears to be aimed at boosting voter turnout, and in reaction to talk of an election boycott by opposition activists, according to Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

The boycott would be a way of expressing public anger over the banning of the main opposition Candlelight Party from running in the election.

The proposed amendment would also impact voters who don’t vote in this election, he said. “The amendment will change the vote from ‘right to vote’ to ‘compulsory to vote,’” he said.

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

“There is nothing he can do to make the election legitimate because he has already engineered – through a bogus requirement – the disqualification of the main opposition party,” he told Radio Free Asia. 

“So this is Hun Sen running against a bunch of firefly parties, parties that really don’t have any chance of winning. And he’s trying to inflate the numbers,” he said.

‘If you dare’

Hun Sen also accused activists from the opposition Candlelight Party of launching an Internet campaign urging people not to vote. 

Last month, the National Election Committee ruled that the Candlelight Party couldn’t appear on the ballot, citing inadequate paperwork. The party had hoped to organize a demonstration this month to protest the ruling but postponed that after Hun Sen threatened to arrest the party’s vice president and other members.

Hun Sen has implemented many bad laws to protect his power since 2017, when the Supreme Court ordered the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the main opposition party at the time – to be disbanded, according to Eng Chhai Eang, a top CNRP official who now lives in the United States.

One way around the new requirement would be for voters to go to polling stations, take a ballot into a voting booth and then destroy it, he said. 

“All parties can join in this,” he said.

Only a dictator would change the election law just six weeks before an election, Robertson said.

“Hun Sen likes to borrow rights’ abusing ideas from other countries. He borrows from Singapore. He borrows from military coup governments in Thailand. He borrows whatever sort of thing he can use to try to justify whatever he needs to do,” he said.

“The reality is that this election is rigged. It’s fixed from the beginning.”

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


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