Official within the Grassroots Democracy Party threatened to pull out of the national elections in July, demanding a more positive atmosphere after ruling party officials allegedly removed GDP billboards in Battambang and Phnom Penh.
“We have announced our stance widely that we will participate in the July 2018 election, but we demand a fruitful atmosphere that meets all points, including posting banners, visiting members and activists, freedom to disseminate information and propaganda, satisfactory local and international observations,” Yang Saing Koma, a co-founder of the GDP, said in an interview yesterday.
“Recently in Battambang province our banner was cut down by district authorities without informing us,” he said, adding that the party has had similar problems in Phnom Penh.
“We think we will not participate if we cannot even post a party banner and our banners have been cut down . . . The authorities in Phnom Penh don’t seem to cooperate or give us an opportunity to do activities,” Koma said, adding that when GDP requested permission for activities to City Hall, they were redirected to other officials ad infinitum.
Koma said the party would file an official complaint to the Ministry of Interior this week.
Cambodia’s main opposition party – the Cambodia National Rescue Party – was dissolved at the government’s behest in November, prompting the international community to openly question the legitimacy of this year’s national elections, and leaving minor parties to jostle for relevance.
Observers have since labelled the Kingdom a “one-party dictatorship”, an image the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has fervently disputed, pointing to minor parties as purported evidence of a vibrant democracy.
Should the GDP – a reform-minded party co-founded by the revered slain political analyst Kem Ley – pull out of the race, it would be yet another blow to the CPP narrative that the Kingdom still enjoys political pluralism.
Though the smaller parties stand little chance of posing a credible threat to the CPP, in a leaked internal message to other party leaders, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that it would be a “double loss” if the CPP were to be defeated by a minor party after dissolving the CNRP.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, meanwhile, brushed off the GDP’s complaints yesterday.
“When we heard that this party would participate in the 2018 election, I was happy . . . but now he has started to change,” he said.
“If it follows the principle and Law on Political Parties and NEC procedures, there will be no problem with local authorities,” Eysan continued, dismissing the claims that any banners had been removed.
Yoeurng Sotheara, legal officer at election watchdog Comfrel, said destroying banners was “illegal” and presents a bad “image” of the fairness of the upcoming election.
“It sounds a bit like an unfair competition,” he said, adding that also betrayed a lack of “respect” for the GDP.
“The implementation of the law by authorities has to be equal,” he said.
Spokespeople from the National Election Committee and City Hall said they were unaware of the situation.