Cambodia's 6th general election kicks off


When the voter turnout for Cambodia's general election crossed the 80 per cent mark on Sunday (July 29), the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of caretaker prime minister Hun Sen wasted no time wielding the figure in its war of narratives against opposition exiles who had called for a boycott.

Party spokesman Sok Eysan said the results suggest that the ruling party likely won every seat in parliament, though he could not yet confirm.

"The CPP won 77.5 per cent of the votes and won all the parliamentary seats", CPP spokesman Sok Eysan told Reuters by telephone.

Prior to the poll, Tokyo contributed to the National Election Committee of Cambodia in what it described as strictly "technical" support - worth ¥800 million - that it said was used for the procurement of ballot boxes and pickup trucks.

Cambodia woke to another chapter of rule by strongman Hun Sen a day after an election that was heavily criticized by rights groups, the United States and other Western countries.

In the run-up to the election, CNRP leaders in exile called on Cambodians to boycott the ballot in a so-called "clean finger" campaign.

But some Cambodians see no point in voting and a low-voter turnout could undermine the CPP's claims to legitimacy.

Another polling station at a school was quiet, with a handful of voters casting their ballots in the mid-afternoon heat.

But, despite appearances, the high turnout does not necessarily paint the picture of an electorate happily engaging in the democratic process. "The people of Cambodia in 2018 would have never given Mr Hun Sen a chance to lead the country".

Ahead of the election, the government proceeded to crack down on dissent, pressured civic organizations and the independent media.

In the capital, the first-placed CPP secured 456,899 votes, just over four and half times more than the number of spoiled ballots.

But the ruling Cambodian People's Party says 19 other parties are standing.

"According to the figures obtained by other parties, I know that the CPP will overwhelmingly win the National Assembly".

"It is imperative that any development, any investment in Cambodia respects the rule of law, human rights, democracy and the will of our people". And working class people in urban areas were pressured by a denial of opportunities connected to their livelihoods.

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He said that amid official threats, many voters felt compelled to cast their ballot, but had invalidated them to show their support for the CNRP's boycott campaign.

A man shows his stained finger at a polling station during a general election in Phnom Penh, Cambodia July 29, 2018.

It appears Hun Sen's heavy-handed and coercive approach worked. "And then they give us 20,000 riel ($5) and say don't forget to vote number 20", Lyda explained a few days before the election.

"I feel hopeless from this election".

A climate of fear driven by local-level ruling party members has made many reluctant openly to criticise the vote. "If they don't have ink on their fingers, they are afraid something will happen to them".

In all, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians spoiled their ballots yesterday, quietly protesting what many have deemed to be the country's least free election yet.

Sam Rainy, an opposition leader who lives in self-exile to avoid court cases he says are politically motivated, commended the US House of Representatives for passing the Cambodia Democracy Act earlier in the week.

His sweeping win and seeming lack of punishment by the worldwide community has some commentators concerned that other Southeast Asian strongmen could learn from Hun Sen's example.

Defying worldwide consensus, Hun Sen maintained that he had won in a free and fair election.

Also on Monday, the office of Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop issued a statement highlighting "serious concerns" with the election, which it said had "reversed more than 25 years of progress towards democracy in Cambodia".

The only hope of reproach comes from the worldwide community.

A statement released by the CPP's central committee on Sunday night said the preliminary 82.17% voter turnout figure "clearly illustrates the enthusiasm and political rights of the Cambodian people in strengthening a multi-party democracy".

The European Union is likely to review the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences, which are dependent on respect for a number of global human rights treaties and ILO labor rights conventions, which Robertson claims Cambodia has systematically violated.