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Southeast Asian MPs condemn Cambodian government’s use of bureaucratic stonewalling, violence to block fair election participation

16/05/2023

Southeast Asian MPs condemn Cambodian government’s use of bureaucratic stonewalling, violence to block fair election participation

JAKARTA – ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) condemns the Cambodian government’s continued efforts to undermine and block opposition parties from participating in the upcoming general elections in July.  

The Hun Sen regime once again shows its utter disdain for the principles of democracy and unwillingness to compete in free and fair elections,” APHR Board Member and former Thai minister of foreign affairs Kasit Piromya said today. “If it wants the world to take the results of the July elections seriously, the Cambodian government must halt all efforts to hamstring its opponents and instead ensure a space for all parties to participate.”

The latest government effort to thwart the opposition comes in the form of the bureaucratic stonewalling of the main opposition Candlelight Party, which has been disqualified by Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) for supposedly failing to submit “proper registration documents”. 

The NEC  had demanded that the Candlelight Party, which was formerly called the Sam Rainsy Party and had previously merged with the Human Rights Party to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) until the latter’s dissolution in 2017, produce its original party registration document from the Ministry of the Interior. 

In the past, including during local elections in May 2022, the Candlelight Party was able to use a photocopy of the letter to register for the polls, as the original was lost during police raids on CNRP’s headquarters in November 2017. The NEC has nevertheless insisted on the original documents.

The Cambodian government is clearly fishing for any excuse to block opposition parties from competing. Disqualifying a party on the basis of such a small technicality fools absolutely no one and just serves as another show of the Hun Sen regime’s bad faith dealings,” said Piromya. “We call on the Cambodian government to allow the registration of the Candlelight Party and any other opposition parties for the upcoming elections.”

These latest tactics come hand-in-hand with direct physical intimidation. As Human Rights Watch has documented, at least six opposition party members have been assaulted by unidentified men riding motorcycles, since Hun Sen publicly threatened opposition supporters with violence in January. . There have been at least six cases in recent months, after Prime Minister Hun Sen on January 9 publicly threatened opposition supporters with violence. 

Previously, in March 2023, former CNRP leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years of house arrest and barred from running for political office or voting in elections after being found guilty on trumped-up treason charges. He was convicted over absurd accusations of conspiring with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen.  

It is disheartening to see Cambodia continuing on this trajectory, especially when recent elections in neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Thailand show how free and fair elections can breathe new life into democracy in countries long-dominated by authoritarian rule,” said Piromya. 

The government of Hun Sen appears determined to drive the final nail into the coffin of Cambodia’s democracy, which is guaranteed by the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991. If the Hun Sen regime persists in blocking opposition parties from participating, then the international community must refuse to accord legitimacy from a government which claims an electoral mandate from a bogus election.”

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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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