| 16 April 2024, Tuesday |

Cambodia’s Hun Sen kicks off campaign for virtually unopposed election

The election campaign for Cambodia’s ruling party kicked off on Saturday. The election has drawn criticism for being a charade because the main opposition party was not allowed to participate.

The 16 million-person Southeast Asian country has been dominated by a 70-year-old strongman for four decades. He addressed a crowd in Phnom Penh, the capital. He appeared next to his son Hun Manet, who is also running for office and is largely expected to succeed him.

Hun Sen said his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has ensured peace, socio-economic development and the strengthening of democracy, adding that rights and freedoms were being respected.

But he also warned that any attempts to incite “social disorder” or rebellion would be put down.

Other than the CPP, only small parties with little funding or popularity will be standing in the July 23 election.

The main opposition party was dissolved in 2017 over an alleged coup attempt, with scores of its members imprisoned. A party formed from its remnants was barred in May over a paperwork discrepancy.

Hun Sen also recently ordered Cambodia’s parliament to revise the law so that anyone who does not vote will be barred from contesting any future elections.

Prominent opposition figure Sam Rainsy has labelled the election a sham. The U.S. has said it is “deeply troubled” by the “undemocratic actions” ahead of the polls and will not send official observers to attend an electoral process “many independent Cambodian and international experts assess is neither free nor fair”.

This week Hun Sen quit Facebook for Telegram. Meta’s (META.O) oversight board said on Thursday he should be suspended for six months for a post in which he said people who accused the CPP of buying votes in a previous election could face a beating from CPP supporters.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications said late Friday they would deport a Meta representative and Cambodia would cease all cooperation with the company, attributing the move to an abundance of fake accounts, data risks, and lack of transparency.

Hun Sen has made no comment on the Meta case. Government spokesperson Phay Siphan on Thursday denied knowledge of the case and said the switch to Telegram was made because it was easier to use and could reach more people.

A Meta representative declined to comment.

During Hun Sen’s rule – one of the world’s longest premierships – political rivals have been jailed or exiled, critical media outlets shuttered and civil dissent crushed.

In recent months he has hinted that he will hand power to Hun Manet, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

  • Reuters