Claims of an unfair Cambodian general election on July 23 were met with strong refutation from a senior official at the National Election Committee (NEC), who countered that polling stations were filled with smiling voters, with no incidents of violence reported.

NEC deputy secretary-general Som Sorida was reacting to a statement made by US Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller. On the election day, Miller said the US was troubled that the July 23 poll was “neither free nor fair”.

Miller’s claim was founded on a reported climate of “intimidation” in the lead-up to the election. He accused the Cambodian authorities of threatening and harassing opposition parties, the media and civil society. This behaviour, he argued, contravened the spirit of Cambodia’s Constitution and its international commitments.

Sorida rejected these allegations, saying a “free and fair” election is defined by respect for the Constitution, the electoral law, NEC’s regulations and related legal provisions. A free and fair election, he elaborated, is a process that adheres to all relevant laws, flawlessly.

“Claims of threats and harassment against opposition parties are incorrect. There is no opposition or ruling party during the election. Any party registered correctly with the Ministry of Interior has the right to partake in the parliamentary election for the seventh mandate. In this mandate, we had 18 political parties participating,” he said.

Sorida explained that all 18 contenders had complied with the conditions regarding party registration. They had followed the procedure for registration of their party and candidates with the NEC.

During the 21-day election campaign, the parties carried out their campaigns peacefully and orderly, with no instances of violence. This tranquillity was recognised and praised by local and international observers. It was maintained during the election day and into the post-election period.

“The election process in Cambodia was free, fair, peaceful, orderly and devoid of threats,” he insisted.

He further pointed out that nearly 85 per cent of all eligible voters participated, casting their ballots “with big smiles”.

Voters felt optimistic their votes were going to the party of their choice.

“This is what both local and international observers saw. The NEC is proud to have achieved a result acceptable to all,” said Sorida.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, suggested the US Department of State made the statement because it had not sent observers to monitor the election.

This lack of on-the-ground data led them to a conclusion different from that of the observers, who praised the election.

“The US based their evaluation on their geopolitical strategy, similar to their assessment of the development of the deep-water port at the Ream Naval Base. Their election evaluation was no different.

“I do not agree with their assessment. We saw robust competition between political parties, and over 84 per cent of eligible voters participated.

Additionally, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party [CPP] was not the only party that secured parliamentary seats. Voters cast their ballots joyfully and without coercion,” Peou said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has issued a press statement in response to allegations regarding the election situation.

The statement emphasized that the recent election, characterized by high voter turnout and vibrant democratic participation, adhered strictly to applicable laws. It also highlighted the monitoring efforts of impartial observers who ensured the election’s adherence to democratic principles and the promotion of political pluralism.

“In summary, the 2023 general election truly showcases Cambodia’s democratic maturity,” the statement read. “This maturity is demonstrated through exceptional voter participation and the legitimacy of the election, as confirmed by the diverse group of both national and international observer teams.”

The statement concluded by asserting Cambodia’s position as an independent and sovereign nation, committed to political pluralism and peaceful democracy. This commitment considers Cambodia’s unique national characteristics, its tragic recent history, and cultural context.