Six of Cambodia’s eight political parties registered to contest July national elections have signed agreements with nongovernmental organizations promising to fight graft as part of their campaigns, amid allegations of a culture of “intimidation and threats” by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party towards opposition groups.
The anti-corruption pledges commit the parties to push for an expansion of the current practice of declaration of assets by officials and to give public access to information to expose corruption.
They also call for the implementation of strong law enforcement to prosecute graft offenders, according to Transparency International Cambodia, an anti-corruption watchdog which was present for the signing of the pledges.
The pledges also highlight the need to combat nepotism and bribery in education and for access to government positions.
The pledge signing came as a group of 10 NGOs highlighted a culture of intimidation against Cambodia’s opposition parties in the lead-up to the July 28 elections, alleging that Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) was “buying votes” within local communities in order to gain an upper hand in the polls.
Parties that signed the anti-corruption pledges included the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Funcinpec, League for Democracy Party, Republican Democracy Party, Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, and Khmer Economic Development Party.
The CPP and the Cambodian Nationality Party—a smaller opposition party—declined to sign the pledges.
Transparency International applauded the six parties for their commitments to fighting corruption, but called for a comprehensive access-to-information law including whistleblower protection and for improvements to the country’s existing anti-corruption law.
“Cambodia’s key institutions are relatively weak compared to other developed democratic countries and must undergo effective checks and balances,” the group said in a statement.
“Strengthened institutions are also needed to build a fair and democratic system that prevents individuals from abusing power for personal gain and allows the country’s citizens to benefit from a fair system that provides equal opportunities.”
Kol Preap, the group’s executive director, called on the Cambodian people to work closely with their elected representatives to battle corruption.
“We now invite the people to stand together with their leaders to fight the corrosive problem across the country, to monitor politicians’ actions on progress being made and to hold them accountable,” he said.
‘Intimidation and threats’
On Thursday, 10 NGOs—including Cambodian rights group Adhoc, Cambodia Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) and Committee for Fair and Free Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel)—said they are concerned with the country’s pre-election environment because of actions taken against the opposition by the ruling CPP.
While the groups have not observed any pre-election violence, they said in a statement that the CPP had grown increasingly hostile toward the opposition in the last five months, and particularly in May, with elections around the corner.
“We are concerned because, in observing the political environment from the national level to the grassroots level, we have seen intimidation and threats against political parties,” Comfrel Director Koul Panha told RFA’s Khmer Service.
According to the NGO statement, local authorities and village chiefs have threatened supporters of non-CPP parties and routinely prevented them from joining opposition rallies.
The group also reported instances where opposition party logos were destroyed and CPP agents were found to be buying votes from local communities.
“NGOs have observed that local authorities are not remaining impartial. They have distributed gifts from the CPP, such as clothing and other materials, which is against the electoral law and regarded as vote buying,” Koul Panha said.
He said the NGOs also noticed a “media bias” against the opposition parties, with prominent broadcasting networks CTN, TVK and Bayon TV dedicating more time to Hun Sen and only the independent Beehive Radio—run by political activist Mam Sonando—providing airtime for the opposition.
Koul Panha said that CPP-affiliated media groups have also urged the public to demonstrate against Kem Sokha, the acting president of the country’s main opposition group—the CNRP.
Over the weekend, more than 10,000 people took to the streets of Phnom Penh in what opposition members said was a rally staged by the ruling party against Kem Sokha for allegedly saying that a prison run by the notorious Khmer Rouge regime in the capital had been faked by Vietnam.
Hun Sen on Thursday denied charges that the CPP was behind the rally.
The CNRP has said that Kem Sokha’s remarks were “twisted” out of context to weaken the opposition ahead of the national elections in which Hun Sen is seeking to extend his nearly three decades in power.
“This kind of environment provokes violence and threats against the opposition party’s [acting] president,” Koul Panha said.
The 10 NGOs also slammed the National Assembly’s CPP-run permanent committee after dismissing 29 opposition members last week for leaving their original parties—the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party—to form the CNRP coalition.
Two members of the disbanded Norodom Ranariddh Party who joined the Funcinpec party have also been sacked from the assembly.
The Cambodian government should reinstate the dismissed lawmakers and should remain neutral in all political matters, the NGO statement said.
“The assembly doesn’t work according to the principle of democratic pluralism. At this point, only the CPP is controlling the National Assembly,” Koul Panha said, adding that “all major state institutions are under CPP control.”
He accused the government of “destroying efforts to build a good democracy in Cambodia” by trying to get rid of the country’s opposition parties.
Reported by Samean Yun and Den Ayuthya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.