As the campaign period for the July 29 elections approaches, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is expected to win due to the alleged absence of a viable opposition to stand against it.
That said, conflicting views have emerged among members of the CPP, the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and watchdog officials in regards to the prevailing political atmosphere in the Kingdom.
The 20-day election campaign period has been set for between July 7 and July 27, with 20 parties registered to compete. Even though the CPP expects the elections to go smoothly and successfully, former CNRP officials claim they are being intimidated by local CPP affiliates.
CPP officials have frequently called on all Cambodians to vote, and Prime Minister Hun Sen, at a meeting with garment factory workers in Takeo province on Wednesday, renewed this call by telling local authorities to facilitate campaigning by all political parties.
“I would like to take this opportunity to call again for provincial and district authorities to make it easy for other political parties to meet party members and put up signs,” he said.
But Kong Mas, a former member of the CNRP’s working group in Svay Rieng province, told The Post on Thursday that even after his party was dissolved, its former local officials face threats that if they didn’t vote and don’t have ink on their fingers, they will be found out.
“Village chiefs will know if there is no ink on our fingers. And they threaten not to provide important legal documents such as birth and wedding certificates, and all other documents [local authorities] should provide by law,” he said.
He said they have also been threatened that if opposition parties urge people not to go and vote, they will be punished. Scare tactics, he said, are a new form of threats in the provinces.
However, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the criticism of former opposition officials regarding alleged intimidation and threats before the election period is not new.
“Twenty years ago, they said the same things. Nothing has changed. This is just their tactic to denounce the election process. Despite this, we will still follow through on democratic principles,” he said.
Mas also claimed that the CPP’s working groups visited communes to talk about the opposition parties and say that the CNRP is rebellious and traitorous. If villagers believe in the CNRP, it means they are traitors too.
“All of what I do in Svay Rieng is being watched by everyone from the provincial governor to the village chiefs. They are always monitoring me."
“While I stay at my apartment, there are always messages to my landlord claiming that I am hiding people who have been banned from politics,” he claimed.
Election expert Yoeurng Sotheara said the pre-election atmosphere is “severe” compared to the commune elections of last year.
“So far, there has been a lot of psychological pressure on voters, including warnings of legal action against those who don’t vote but ink fingers as if they have done so. This pressures voters to decide [whether or not to vote]. Some are still pondering this question,” he said.
Sotheara said the “pressure” on Cambodians include the court-dissolution of the CNRP, and other actions such as the alleged persecution of civil society groups like the “Situation Room”, which was a coalition that observed elections, media restrictions, and the constant insistence that the people must vote.
“In summary, the pre-election atmosphere seems very serious. The international community has been criticising the conditions, human rights and freedom. Even if the election process goes according to schedule, these are factors which have affected the principles of freedom and justice,” he claimed.
To this, Siphan said Cambodia is walking on the path of a liberal multi-party democracy, and that the concerns of the CNRP and civil society are nothing new.
“The government continues to promote a culture of respect and the right of the people to choose their representatives."
“At the last [elections], there were only eight political parties, but now, there are 20. There is the freedom to participate in politics, which means that Cambodia, regardless, is walking on the liberal multi-party path.
“People have the freedom to register and vote. As a result, we are continuing to build and strengthen our democratic values by encouraging them to do so,” he said.