CAMBODIA plans to deploy more than 100,000 security personnel and “village guards” at polling stations across the country in the upcoming July elections, police said on Wednesday.
In a statement on the website of the General Commissariat of the National Police, spokesman Kiet Chantharith said on top of the initial 80,000 security forces planned to police polling stations, the government will deploy an additional 20,000 “village guards” to provide security during the election.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), the rollout is a significant increase in the number deployed in the most recent elections in June 2017. During the commune elections, only 50,000 personnel were used to oversee the vote. These were made up of Cambodian police, military police, and more than 4,000 soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
At a training session on election-related laws, regulations and procedures, and code of conduct for security personnel, Kiet Chantharith said that all officers working to protect the ballot must “clearly understand their roles … so that the environment on Election Day will proceed smoothly, freely, fairly, and justly, and without intimidation or threat.”
Election watchdog Committee on Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), questioned whether the so-called “village guards” would receive adequate training to ensure the safety and rights of voters.
“These village guards fall under the framework of the Ministry of the Interior, but they are just citizen volunteers from their villages or communes who are chosen by the local council to help monitor security,” Comfrel representative Kan Savang told RFA, adding that they “aren’t provided with remuneration like public servants.”
The increased security presence could be a sign of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s fear of losing, according to political analyst Hang Vitou. While the now dissolved opposition party have called for the Cambodians to boycott the July 29 election, it is unlikely to have any effect on the outcome, Hang said.
“I think that the government is afraid of … any unexpected event that might occur,” he said.
“I expect that the opposition supporters – if they even participate – will merely go to vote. The opposition appears incapable of doing anything that would disrupt or disturb the election.”
Hun Sen has been implementing a crackdown on opposition to his more than 30-year rule in the lead up to polling day. The only credible opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, was dissolved in November and its leader, Kem Sokha, jailed on charges of treason.
He has also closed media outlets and NGOs that criticised his approach.
As the only established party remaining in the race, the upcoming election has been called a “sham” by Western countries, many of whom have cut off aid and impose a visa ban on some of the party’s members.