Cambodia: Climate of ‘fear and confusion’ in lead up to election
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Cambodia: Climate of ‘fear and confusion’ in lead up to election

THE threat of fines and intimidation for those who boycott Sunday’s general election has created a climate of “fear and confusion” among voters, United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to Cambodia Rhona Smith said on Friday.

The special rapporteur expressed her concern amid an ongoing political crackdown that has seen Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) void of any credible competition in the build-up to the ballot.

In a statement posted to the Facebook page of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia, Smith highlighted reports of government representatives stating that abstaining from voting was illegal and that fines would be imposed on people messaging about a boycott of the July 29 election.

She also pointed to reports that local authorities have threatened to withhold public services from those who do not vote for the CPP.

The government threat is in response to calls from the now-dissolved opposition party to boycott the election as part of their “Clean Fingers” campaign. The name refers to the ink-stained fingers Cambodians receive after having cast their vote.

While the result of Sunday’s ballot is not in doubt, with the CPP expected to win by a landslide, a boycott would rob Hun Sen – the world’s longest-serving prime minister – and the entire election process of any legitimacy.

The ruling party has denied using intimidation and threats to force people to vote, however, the Ministry of Interior has warned that it will take legal action against any individual or group that calls for an election boycott.

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According to the Phonm Penh Post, the Battambang Provincial Election Committee on Sunday said it will investigate a complaint against some 30 former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) opposition members for taking part in a gathering supporting the Clean Fingers campaign.

A complaint was made by CPP members after a photo surfaced on Facebook showing Chea Chiv, regional head of CNRP, and others gathered for a party at his home in Sangke district’s Anglong Vel commune, where the boycott call was held.

A report earlier this month from Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) found that garment workers – the backbone of Cambodia’s economy – have been pressured by bosses to vote.

Reporters spoke to several factory workers who said they have been coerced by employers to cast their vote of “face consequences” despite their party of choice, the CNRP, being dissolved in November.

“This only creates a climate of fear and confusion,” Smith said on Friday.

Smith added that, while she welcomed recent government calls to local authorities to avoid discrimination during the campaign, she encouraged “the government to condemn in very clear terms voter intimidation and to clarify that calling for a boycott in a non-compulsory vote is permitted.”