Cambodia’s opposition National Rescue Party (NRP) has dismissed suggestions by Prime Minister Hun Sen that its delay in submitting a list of candidates for upcoming national elections underscores a split within the party.
Kem Sokha, the NRP’s deputy president, said the party was holding back the candidates’ list in anticipation of election reforms urgently needed to ensure that the July 28 polls are free and fair.
He said Hun Sen’s aides may have given the prime minister inaccurate information for him to make assumptions about a rift within the NRP.
Contrary to Hun Sen’s claims, he said, there is no internal dissent within his group and that it is “well-prepared” with the list of candidates.
“Someone cheated [Hun Sen] because this is a false report,” Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service, mocking the prime minister for accepting “incorrect information from his informants.”
“We don't have any internal conflict,” he said.
The NRP is led by exiled chief Sam Rainsy, who has been barred by the Cambodian authorities from contesting the elections due to past convictions which he says were politically motivated.
Kem Sokha may have to lead the NRP against Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the elections if Sam Rainsy fails in his campaign to return to contest the polls.
Kem Sokha said the party had “reshuffled some candidates to make sure they are ready to compete with CPP officials,” without elaborating.
He said the NRP was prepared to submit its candidate list even by this weekend to the National Election Committee (NEC), which organizes and manages all elections in the country, if it agrees to adopt and implement poll reforms proposed by various groups.
The NRP had been holding off also with the hope that the NEC would accept calls from Cambodia’s opposition for more transparency and to allow Sam Rainsy to participate in the election, he said.
The demands echo recommendations to Prime Minister Hun Sen made earlier this year by U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi, who has been accused by the government of siding with the country’s political opposition and civil society.
The NEC maintains that it has acted in accordance with electoral laws and will not take any recommendations into consideration.
Earlier this week in Washington, Sam Rainsy asked Cambodian authorities to postpone the national elections, citing inconsistencies in voter registration and barring of the opposition from observing the ballot process.
Sam Rainsy has been living in self-imposed exile in France since 2009, facing a total of 11 years in prison over a string of convictions that critics contend are politically motivated.
Claims of division
Hun Sen earlier this week suggested that the NRP had been slow in submitting its candidate list due to an internal conflict.
He said its persistent calls for election reforms were a ploy to cover up its internal divisions.
“They said they haven’t submitted their candidate list because they’re waiting for the NEC to reform,” Hun Sen said.
“Please don't lie. [The NRP] simply can't agree on candidate lists,” he said, adding that the party was having “problems” with candidates in “certain provinces.”
Hun Sen reaffirmed that the government would not delay the election or audit voting lists under any circumstances.
According to law, he said, national elections must take place every five years in the fourth week of July.
As of Thursday, five political parties had registered with the NEC to compete in the polls. The NEC has recognized and approved three of them, including the CPP.
Local rights groups have charged that the NEC is biased toward the CPP, and election watchdogs say voters are intimidated into supporting the ruling party through restrictions on freedom of expression, rights abuses, and land disputes.
Last week, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) and several human rights groups demanded that the NEC post a list of voters for upcoming crucial elections in all villages and involve key political parties in the supervision of the polling process.
They expressed concern over the lack of transparency in preparations for the polls along with what they felt was weak management in the selection of ground election supervisors and the "poor quality" of the voters list.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.