On July 29, 2018, Cambodia will hold its sixth general election since it emerged from decades of war in 1993. Cambodians go to the polls amid widespread condemnation from the international community that the dissolution on spurious charges last November of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the main opposition party, removed all meaningful competition for the ruling party of strongman Hun Sen.


The election result is a foregone conclusion, with long-time strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) the only significant party permitted to run and expected to win most of the seats. A low turnout has been predicted, with large numbers of CNRP supporters expected to stay away from the polls. Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling party has conducted a systematic crackdown against the opposition CNRP by dissolving the party, imprisoning its leaders and activists, and banning 118 of its senior members from politics for five years. The government has also shut down independent media, throttled civil society and quieted dissenting voices. The crackdown has taken place under the pretext that Hun Sen’s opponents are involved with foreign powers in conspiring to mount a so-called “Color Revolution” to topple his government.





1. Ominous warnings employed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) ahead of the election. These include warnings of civil war and repeated threats to smash people’s heads with bamboo poles, smash opponents’ teeth in, calls to eliminate 100-200 people, and advice to opponents to prepare your coffin.

2. The bias of the National Election Committee (NEC) is demonstrated by its composition, with most of its nine leading members CPP-aligned officials. There are no representatives from civil society or the opposition to ensure its independence and neutrality.

3. Repressive laws: The CPP-controlled national assembly spent the last five years crafting new laws designed to increase government control and restrict the democratic space for media, the opposition party, civil society, NGOs, independent trade unions, and other dissenting voices.

These laws include:

  • a. Election Law: All political parties have to accept final election results, or their seats will be taken. This gives opposition parties no chance to contest, stage boycotts or hold demonstrations against vote rigging or electoral fraud. Any political party subject to dissolution by Supreme Court will have its seats redistributed. Convicted individuals cannot serve as president of a party, at the risk of party dissolution.
  • b. Law on Trade Unions; Law on Associations and NGOs: Controlling formation, registration, foreign funding/financing.
  • c. Law on Statute of Judges and Prosecutors; and Law on Organization of the Courts: Gives Justice Minister complete control over judiciary system.
  • d. Amendment to Criminal Code, adding Lese Majeste clause: Aims to silence government critics and dissenting voices.
  • e. Constitutional amendments, including provisions that oppose interference in the country’s internal affairs and disenfranchise voters and candidates deemed to have violated the interest of the state.

4. Election observers mostly from countries with thin or no democratic credentials: The UN, US and EU have decided they will not monitor this election. The 50,000 observers the government claims will watch the vote, include 17 international observers who hail from China, Russia and Singapore.

5. Vote buying with populism and demagoguery: Hun Sen conducted campaigns for his ruling party at least a year ahead of the election, personally meeting with nearly 700,000 garment workers and handing them US$5.00 to each, which cost Cambodian taxpayers US$3.5 million. His ruling party also introduced several attractive incentive packages, including a pay raise for civil servant, special allowances for workers and pregnant women, and free transportation.

6. Gerrymandering and electoral boundary manipulation: After suffering a major loss to the opposition, Kompong Cham province was split into two; the eastern half of Kompong Cham became the nation’s newest province, known as Tbaung Khmum. Three new districts -- Chbar Amp, Prek Pnov, and Chroy Changva -- were added to Phnom Penh’s existing nine districts, ahead of the first municipal/provincial council election in May 2014.

7. Moves toward hereditary dynastic regime: Several months ahead of the election, Hun Sen’s oldest son, Hun Manet, was widely publicized by government-aligned media in his unprecedented introductory meeting with regional leaders including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Hun Manet has recently been promoted to four-star general and elevated to serve as acting Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and acting RCAF head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, in addition to his present duty as Commander of Cambodia’s National Counter Terrorism Special Force.

8. Relentless crackdown against the opposition and civil society: The main opposition party the CNRP was dissolved ahead of the election, and 118 of its senior members were banned from politics for five years. In addition, 55 elected CNRP lawmakers’ seats along with the 5,007 commune/sangkat councilors’ seats it held nationwide were redistributed to other minor parties that failed to secure popular votes in previous elections. At least 30 opposition party members, activists and civil society members have been arrested or are currently in jail, including CNRP President Kem Sokha. Meanwhile, former CNRP President Sam Rainsy has been embroiled in almost a dozen lawsuits that have resulted in jail terms and countless fines. Under the pretext of combatting a supposed Color Revolution, the National Democratic Institute, a US NGO, was expelled, while the Situation Room, a group of more than 40 NGO election monitors, was shut down. The environmental NGO Mother Nature was forcefully closed.

9. Media clampdown: The Cambodia Daily shut down after 24 years of operation due to a spurious tax bill, while RFA closed its nearly 20-year old Phnom Penh’ bureau. The Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia’s last bastion of independent media, was thrown into turmoil and taken over through a controversial deal by new owner believed to be government aligned. The government has shut down nearly 20 independent radio stations, while online news and social media face strict government controls.

10. A government disinformation campaign, featuring fake news: In the run-up to the election, through its tightly controlled media, the ruling party launched an endless disinformation campaign, which included spreading fake news to attack opposition politicians, activists and civil society and NGO members. The campaign swiftly turned went dirty, as the loyal Fresh News media outlet distributed leaked private phone conversations and other information allegedly from individuals whom the government was targeting in its surveillance.

11. Phony or questionable “opposition” parties: Including the ruling CPP, 20 political parties will participate in the election. Yet these 19 political parties are little-known, minor and insignificant parties that exist only during election season and disappear afterward. They are being dubbed ‘ampil ampek’ (firefly parties) or ‘aph’ (disembodied ghosts) and some of them are fully aligned with the CPP, created in order to uphold a façade of electoral competition.

12. Cambodia’s entire political system is run to support Hun Sen’s political machinations, giving him no chance of losing. As the CPP and Hun Sen put it: “The CPP will always win and govern the country FOREVER.”


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