ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) have called for an end to intimidation, threats and violence against political opposition ahead of Cambodia’s council commune elections scheduled for June 4.
In a statement released on Wednesday, APHR urged authorities to ensure that all Cambodians’ right to elect the candidate of their choice was protected through free and fair elections, citing a growing “climate of fear” created by threats of violence.
Recently the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Tea Banh threatened to “smash the teeth” of protesters opposing the result of the forthcoming poll. Prime Minister Hun Sen has also warned of “civil war” if his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) doesn’t win.
“Cambodians deserve the opportunity to select their local leaders without fear. Amidst so many reports of threats, it is impossible to not be concerned about Sunday’s vote,” said the Chair of APHR and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago.
“The politically toxic environment they create is not conducive to free and fair elections.”
Cambodia’s government has faced criticism for cracking down on political opposition, the media and rights advocates in the lead up to these local elections and national elections next year, as the CPP tries to cling to power.
In the lead up to the election, Cambodian authorities have banned certain rallies and arbitrarily rejected campaign slogans and materials, which APHR says in “in clear violation of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression and assembly.”
“Given these worrying reports, authorities in Cambodia must ensure that all procedures mandated by local laws and regulations are strictly followed,” said Tom Villarin, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives. “This is the only way to guarantee that the Cambodian people can trust the results of the elections.”
“Sunday’s local elections are critical for grassroots democracy and the vote is being seen by many as a kind of litmus test of the political environment ahead of national elections planned for 2018,” Santiago continued.
Hun Sen has been in power for three decades – making him one of the longest serving world leaders on the planet.
A March report entitled Death Knell for Democracy from APHR argued that Cambodia’s democracy is being “systematically dismantled.”
Former head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy was forced to resign in February after the government passed legislation on political parties designed specifically to exclude him from taking a senior role in the party.
Santiago said that “it is almost as if the government were trying to prove our point. Instead of toning down their use of violent rhetoric, high-ranking party officials … have continued down a dangerous path.”
Amnesty International this week released a report which documented the government’s apparent manipulation of Cambodia’s judiciary to supress political opponents and human rights defenders.
As well as widespread intimidation, APHR says there are reports that the National Election Committee has printed some 20 percent more ballot papers than required. It says ink used to identify people who have already voted can easily be washed off.
“The increasingly repressive and restrictive political and rights environment in Cambodia – and the danger and implications of democracy failing there – makes it one the most pressing situations in our region,” said Santiago.