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Southeast Asian MPs and international CSOs denounce undemocratic elections in Cambodia, urge international community not to lend legitimacy to Hun Sen’s regime

24/07/2023

Southeast Asian MPs and international CSOs denounce undemocratic elections in Cambodia, urge international community not to lend legitimacy to Hun Sen’s regime

JAKARTA – The farcical elections held in Cambodia must not be legitimized by the international community, Southeast Asian parliamentarians said in a press conference today, decrying the Hun Sen regime’s relentless attacks against human rights defenders and opposition parties prior to election day.

This year alone, Hun Sen and his regime have publicly threatened opposition supporters with legal action and physical violence, shuttered one of the country’s last independent media outlets, sentenced an opposition leader to 27 years imprisonment on ridiculous charges, and banned the sole viable opposition party,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Right Co-Chairperson and former Malaysian member of parliament Charles Santiago. 

Given all these blatant efforts to undermine free and fair polls, what happened yesterday in Cambodia can only be called ‘elections’ in the loosest sense of the word,” said Santiago. “In effect, it was yet another coronation for Hun Sen and his cronies.”

The Cambodian general elections were held on Sunday, 23 July, with three parties participating in the vote. However, the country’s largest opposition party, the Candlelight Party, was barred from participating in the election on dubious administrative grounds in May. Human Rights Watch reported that numerous Candlelight Party members and supporters have been arbitrarily arrested and harassed in the run-up to the elections. After the polls closed, Hun Sen said that voter turnout reached 84 percent and state-affiliated media has claimed that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party is on course to win 120 out of 125 seats in the National Assembly.

“These types of so-called ‘elections’ have increasingly become the tools of authoritarian leaders to consolidate their power, undermining elections as one of the core pillars of democracy,” said APHR Board Member and former member of the Indonesian House of Representatives Eva Kusuma Sundari. “The international community must not fall into the trap of legitimizing this pantomime.”

In its pre-election assessment mission report, Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) noted that the clear bias of the National Election Commission (NEC) combined with a deteriorating political situation has compromised “the integrity and credibility of the electoral process.” Its initial findings from monitoring election day were no different.

There is a serious question on the genuineness and electoral competitiveness of yesterday’s elections with the whole process from pre-elections to election day respecting any of internationally accepted election standards,” said ANFREL Executive Director Chandanie Watawala.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also raised its grave concerns about the judicial harassment of opposition supporters and activists.

Whether the general election  was free and fair has to be seen within the human rights and rule of law crisis in Cambodia. This crisis is being further entrenched by the intensified assaults against the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and political participation. In the lead-up to the elections, there were mass convictions of opposition party leaders on spurious charges, weaponization of laws that are non-compliant with human rights law and standards against human rights defenders, and acts of violence and incitement of violence against perceived political opponents with impunity,” said ICJ Associate International Legal Adviser Daron Tan.

At every step of the way, PM Hun Sen has violated the rights of civil society activists, independent media, political opposition figures while ensuring the full weight of the Cambodian state backs his party,” said Human Rights Watch Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson. “This entire election was a charade designed solely to give Hun Sen and the CPP a justification to say that they are democratic when in reality they are presiding over a deepening dictatorship.”

We call on parliamentarians of democratic countries across the world to use their legislative mandate in parliament to unequivocally denounce the 2023 electoral exercise in Cambodia as undemocratic,” said Sundari. “We must pressure the Cambodian government to end all forms of political persecution and immediately and unconditionally release political prisoners. There must also be an independent investigation into human rights violations and electoral irregularities, with the aim of ensuring accountability.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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