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UN: Large number of voters ‘alienated’

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Staff begin to count votes at a polling station in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district’s Koh Dach commune last month. Hong Menea

UN: Large number of voters ‘alienated’

The spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) claimed a significant proportion of the Cambodian population was left alienated in the July 29 elections after the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Having held 55 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly before being outlawed by the Supreme Court last year, the CNRP saw its president Kem Sokha jailed and 118 of its top officials banned from political activity for five years.

The final results of the July 29 polls revealed last week that the Cambodian People’s Party swept all 125 seats in parliament, making it the first single-party parliament in the Kingdom’s modern history.

Ravina Shamdasani, the OHCHR spokesperson, released a statement on Friday saying that in the run-up to the elections there was reportedly intimidation, vote buying, restriction on civil society organisations – 17 websites were blocked around election day – and legal action taken against those who called for an election boycott.

She called on the Cambodian government to create an environment for open and inclusive political debate that allows all voices in Cambodia to be heard.

“We urge the government to release political opponents, journalists, human rights defenders and ordinary citizens who have been detained for exercising their human rights, in particular, their right to freedom of expression.

“Respect for human rights and a vibrant civil society that has the space to debate even complex and controversial issues are essential ingredients if the conflict of the past is to be avoided, and if development is to be peaceful and sustainable,” she said.

She also called on the government to lift the ban on former CNRP leaders.

But Cambodia’s mission to the UN office reacted a day later by saying that the OHCHR’s accusation was baseless and that the July election should be regarded as “an unprecedented event in the modern history of Cambodia”.

The mission said the election went smoothly and peacefully.

“The high turnout, smooth function, and the absence of violence before, during and after election day unequivocally signifies how human rights and democracy are deeply rooted and broadly flourishing in Cambodian society."

“The OHCHR should have applauded, appreciated or further encouraged [this fact],” the commission said.

The mission went on to point out that the OHCHR saw the environment in the Kingdom pessimistically based on the fate of only the CNRP, ignoring the 20 other political parties competing in the poll.

Responding to the call for inclusive political talks, the commission said the new government has created a forum of dialogue, referring to Hun Sen’s announcement last week for a multiparty “Consultation Forum” to be established.

The prime minister also offered to bring in leaders from opposition parties as advisers to ministries within the government.

Defending legal actions taken against journalists, politicians, and human rights defenders in the country, the commission said the call for their release was “no way different from calling the government to meddle in judicial authority, which is an independent body.”

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