Calls to stop ‘mockery of democracy’ in Cambodia
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Calls to stop ‘mockery of democracy’ in Cambodia

THE international response to Cambodia’s upcoming election has been “disappointing” and the international community must do more to intervene in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s assault on democracy, a group of experts said Tuesday.

“I think one of the reasons for the muted international response is the international community might be caught up in a feeling of complacency because of the Hun Sen’s government pattern of applying pressure and then reverting back to normal,” John Cavanaugh, the Cambodia country director for US-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) told a press conference in Bangkok.

“What we’re seeing is this is not going to revert back to the old normal, this is a new normal … so we really are calling for a much more aggressive international response.”

Cambodians head to the polls on Sunday to vote in what is essentially a one-horse race. Hun Sen, the world’s longest-serving prime minister, has dissolved the only credible opposition party and jailed its leader Kem Sokha.

He has also led a crackdown on dissent and sought to quash a campaign by former opposition members to boycott the election.

While both the EU and the US have pulled donor support of the election, neither have withdrawn preferential trading access for Cambodian exports.

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Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) is welcomed by garment workers during a rally in Kandal province, Cambodia, July 4, 2018. Source: Reuters/Samrang Pring

Despite operating a non-interference policy, Cambodia’s Asean neighbours have also expressed concern for the legitimacy of the election.

Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and chairperson of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), said that the lack of a strong international response to Cambodia’s crackdown risked emboldening other regional “dictators” who might follow Hun Sen’s example to secure their own hold on power.

“Dictators in the region are colluding with each other and growing legitimacy for their rule when they are in total violation of rule of law,” Santiago said.

“It’s important for countries … to stand up to such violation of people’s rights in Cambodia,” he said, adding that “the international community should not give any form of legitimacy to [Cambodia’s] sham election.”

Rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) echoed this sentiment saying the vote was already decided when the opposition was dissolved back in November.

“Everything that has happened since then, in our view, has been a mockery of democracy, rather than an upholding of democracy,” said deputy director of HRW Phil Robertson.

“There is no real excuse, frankly, for the failure of governments to speak out.”