Cambodia’s ruling party won all seats in elections for the country’s Senate at the weekend, just over three months after Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, disenfranchising thousands of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s political opponents and forcing others into exile.
All 58 seats in the uncompetitive election went to the CPP on Sunday in voting open only to lawmakers and commune officials, with a total of 11,670 out of a possible 11,695 votes cast, Cambodia’s National Election Commission (NEC) said.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in November, dissolving the CNRP for allegedly plotting a ”coup,” banned 118 opposition lawmakers and senior officials from politics for five years, eliminating Hun Sen’s main competition ahead of general elections scheduled for July.
More than 5,000 remaining elected CNRP commune chiefs and district counselors were also removed from their positions.
Cambodia’s lower house, the National Assembly, meanwhile reallocated the CNRP's parliamentary seats to the ruling party and three smaller government-aligned political parties, while the CNRP's elected local officials were pressured to defect to the CPP or lose their positions.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday, independent Cambodian election monitoring groups slammed Sunday’s vote, calling the outcome illegitimate and unfair.
“In a victory won without a real contest, the ruling party has now taken control of the upper house,” Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) said in an interview.
“This means that the CPP will now pass whatever law it wants without any challenge from the opposition. The senate is a very important body, with the power to cross-check any law proposed by the lower house.”
“Now the CPP controls the senate 100 percent,” he said.
Results no surprise
Speaking to RFA from Canada, Kul Panha, head of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) said he was not surprised by the outcome of the vote.
“During this election, over 5,000 voters were deprived of their rights. This has huge implications in any free and fair election and calls into question [this vote’s] legitimacy,” he said.
“On top of that, the only real opposition party has been dissolved and banned from competing in the elections, while lawmakers from the CNRP elected last year have all been barred from politics and were not allowed to run as candidates.”
“This defies the principles of free and fair elections,” he said.
Cambodians both inside Cambodia and living abroad also criticized the election on social media on Monday, with one saying it would have been unusual for the ruling party not to have won all seats.
“The whole game was orchestrated entirely by the CPP,” one man wrote. “Everyone involved in this election belongs to the ruling party, including the election judges.”
“Since the ruling party has already dissolved the opposition party, why did they even need to hold this election?” another writer asked, adding, “The CPP could just have claimed all seats without bothering to arrange a vote. It’s a waste of the national budget to arrange such an election.”
Also on Monday, Cambodia’s CPP-dominated Supreme Court upheld an 18-month prison sentence handed down in absentia to former Sam Rainsy Party senator Thak Lany, who later fled Cambodia and now lives in exile in Sweden.
The Nov. 16, 2017 sentence followed her conviction for “defamation and incitement to cause chaos” after she accused Hun Sen in a private speech in 2016 of involvement in the murder that year of popular social commentator Kem Ley.
Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016, 36 hours after discussing on an RFA Khmer call-in show a report by the London-based group Global Witness detailing the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 32 years.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.