Leaders of Cambodia’s main opposition group said Tuesday that they will reject the results of upcoming national elections if the ruling party, which is widely expected to win, continues to disrupt campaigning activities of opposition party members.
Nhem Ponharith, spokesman for the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) opposition coalition, told RFA’s Khmer Service that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was causing repeated “disturbances” that were hindering his party’s campaign to compete for votes.
“Political disturbances, including preventing us from disseminating information about the CNRP’s platform, and provoking all kinds of additional problems will not allow us to have a free campaign,” he said, adding that his party would not recognize the July 28 election results if the harassment did not stop.
The CNRP also released a statement Tuesday acknowledging that the party will participate in the upcoming election, but calling for a “free and fair election and an independent National Election Commission (NEC).”
Late last year, Surya Subedi, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, said the NEC lacks independent and autonomous status in the constitutional and legal structure of Cambodia, as well as its own independent budget allocated by the National Assembly, or parliament.
Responding to the CNRP’s claims, NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said Tuesday that by registering for the polls, the opposition had “already signed and acknowledged that they will compete in the election and recognize the election results.”
He also referred to a statement issued on Sunday by Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni assuring the public that they would not be intimidated by either individuals or political parties ahead of the polls, which he said would be in line with “democratic principles.”
“The King’s royal message assures the voters to vote without fear. This is a meaningful message,” he said, adding that the NEC would ensure that the public was made aware of the statement.
Culture of harassment
Ahead of the elections, rights groups and nongovernmental organizations have accused the CPP of various attacks on the opposition, which they say have become increasingly frequent in the last five months, and particularly in May.
Last week, 10 Cambodian NGOs said in a statement that they are concerned with the country’s pre-election environment because of actions taken by the ruling party, including local authorities and village chiefs threatening supporters of non-CPP parties and routinely preventing them from joining opposition rallies.
The group also cited instances where opposition party logos were destroyed and CPP agents were found to be buying votes from local communities.
Committee for Fair and Free Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) Director Koul Panha, whose organization was among those who signed last week’s statement by the NGOs, said Tuesday that voters had become increasingly aware of their political rights and how they are being threatened.
“We are still concerned. There are threats and intimidation against the opposition party,” he said.
“Now [the ruling party] is filing lawsuits against the opposition party, which is a threat to their security.”
At least two lawsuits have been filed against acting CNRP President Kem Sokha for allegedly saying earlier this month that a prison in Phnom Penh run by the notorious Khmer Rouge regime had been faked by Vietnam—a charge the CNRP has denied.
His purported comments prompted a mass protest against him in what opposition members said was a rally staged by the ruling party.
Immediately following Kem Sokha’s alleged comments, the CPP-dominated National Assembly pushed through a law making it a crime to deny Khmer Rouge atrocities, which the ruling party later denied was aimed at the opposition leader.
Twenty-nine opposition party members could not attend the voting session as they were dismissed by the National Assembly’s CPP-run permanent committee for leaving their original parties—the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party—to form the CNRP coalition.
Last week, Hun Sen also accused Kem Sokha of paying for sex with an under-aged girl, although he did not provide any evidence to back his claim.
Meanwhile, the CNRP on Tuesday began gathering thumbprints from voters for a petition to the National Assembly calling for the reinstatement of their 29 lawmakers dismissed earlier this month.
“We want to gather 20,000 thumbprints for the National Assembly to invalidate its decision,” CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told RFA, adding that the party had already collected 3,000 thumbprints.
CPP lawmaker and Foreign Affairs Commission chairman Chheang Von dismissed the petition, calling the action “undemocratic,” and saying that the National Assembly would not consider the opposition’s request.
Last week, Comfrel’s Koul Panha called on the Cambodian government to reinstate the dismissed lawmakers and to remain neutral in all political matters.
“The assembly doesn’t work according to the principle of democratic pluralism. At this point, only the CPP is controlling the National Assembly,” he 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 Tin Zakariya and Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.