Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that the imminent general election is not only a contest among the 18 political parties for National Assembly seats, but also between the 18 contenders and the “outlawed” overseas-based opposition.

Hun Sen referred to the opposition as extremist factions seeking to undermine the democratic process.

“Extremists, instructed by a fugitive convict associated with a domestic political party, are plotting to disrupt the electoral process, using tactics such as urging voters not to participate and even vandalising the ballots,” he said in a Telegram post on July 19, apparently referring to Sam Rainsy, former president of the long-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

“On July 23, will the democratic forces vying in the election outnumber the elements intent on undermining democracy and the electoral process? Time will tell,” said the post.

Chin Malin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, weighed in on the legal side of things when the National Election Committee (NEC) imposed a fine of 20 million riel ($5,000) on Sam Rainsy, struck him from the voter list, and banned him from participating in an election for a quarter of a century.

Furthermore, 16 other transgressors were sanctioned with fines between 10 and 20 million riel and banned from running in an election for 20 to 25 years.

“Article 142 of the recently revised election law prescribes fines from five to 20 million riel for anyone obstructing the voting process or persuading eligible voters not to cast their ballots. The NEC has the authority to impose additional criminal penalties,” Malin stated on July 18.

In a landmark move, the NEC has recently barred 17 opposition figures, including Rainsy, from the electoral process.

These individuals have been implicated in a campaign to undermine the credibility of the forthcoming July 23 election.

As a result, they face an electoral candidacy ban of 20 years and monetary penalties ranging between 10 and 20 million riel.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said on July 19 that Rainsy and his affiliates had resisted the King’s plea for his subjects to freely exercise their voting rights and elect a political party of their choice.

“These associates have been distorting facts, inciting social disturbance, and urging people to void their votes. This constitutes a severe breach of the laws,” Puthea remarked.

“We decided to penalise Sam Rainsy with a 20 million riel fine, erase him from the voter list and ban him from standing in an election for 25 years. We followed the law. The fines are justifiable, given that this person has been misleading people about their voting rights and creating social disorder,” he added”.