A month before the elections, the National Assembly passes a law that punishes boycotting an election that is meaningless after the Candlelight Party’s disqualification. Now anyone who does not vote will not be able to run for office for at least four consecutive elections. According to human rights groups, this is but another campaign of intimidation by Hun Sen, the country’s strongman.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cambodia’s National Assembly today approved, by a unanimous vote, an amendment to the election law in order to sanction anyone who does not participate in next month's national elections.
Outside the country, Cambodian elections are seen as a farce since incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for almost 40 years, has stifled every form of opposition.
Earlier this month, the Election Commission announced that those who urge people not to vote will be fined or imprisoned.
The prime minister asked lawmakers to revise the legislation to ban from office people who boycott the 23 July elections.
Anyone not going to vote “without an appropriate reason… will lose the right to run for office in four consecutive elections,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng without explaining what constitutes an “appropriate reason.”
"The amendments impose fines and punish individuals who disrupt and obstruct the voter registration process...(and) the election," he added.
The new law targets primarily prominent opposition figures who fled the country to avoid politically motivated convictions.
National elections in Cambodia are held every five years and it is impossible to vote from abroad.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been in exile in France since 2015, while Kem Sokha, another opposition politician, was sentenced to 27 years in prison in March on treason charges.
For the Cambodian government, this it is a way to enforce the law, but for human rights groups, the new law is part of a campaign of intimidation.
"This really shows that this is a dictatorship that is playing in the democracy game," said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch. “Civil rights and political liberty have been completely, totally restricted by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government,” he added.
In the last elections in 2018, Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won every seat with 4.8 million votes out of a total of 6.9 million.
The only opposition party, the Candlelight Party, was first hounded and then disqualified by the Election Commission, officially for improper paperwork.
Photo: Cambodian National Assembly