Cambodia prepares for election marred by criticism

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Phnom Penh, July 28 (IANS) Authorities in Cambodia were finalising preparations on Saturday for the national legislative elections, whose legitimacy has been called into question by domestic and international observers after the country’s main opposition party was dissolved last year.

National Election Committee (NEC) officials began installing ballot boxes and preparing materials and documentation for around 23,000 booths to be used in Sunday’s elections, in which 8.3 million Cambodians are registered to vote, Efe news reported.

NEC spokesperson Dim Sovannarom supervised the preparations at a booth in the capital city of Phnom Penh and called for a fair, free and transparent election.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country since 1985, is expected to secure a majority of the 125 seats at stake, although 19 other candidates are also contesting.

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The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which won 44 per cent of the votes in 2013, was dissolved in 2017 after a judicial offensive that also led to the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha on charges of conspiring with foreigners to overthrow the government. Many of the CNRP’s top members have been forced into exile.

The crackdown on the CNRP has led to concerns surrounding the fairness of the elections.

“This coming election is in reality the funeral ceremony for Cambodian democracy,” Asia Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson tweeted.

The UN has also questioned the legitimacy of the elections, along with the US and the European Union, which withdrew aid to the National Election Committee of Cambodia and threatened to impose sanctions.

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Sophal Ear, Associate Professor at Occidental College in the US, said that these elections represented the death of democracy given that the country is headed towards a single party state and a new authoritarian order unprecedented since 1992.

The CPP and other parties ended their respective campaigns on Friday, while Saturday was free of election rallies as the military police was on the city’s main roads.

The election will be the sixth since the UN organised the first democratic vote in 1993, following the peace agreements that had ended more than two decades of civil war between several Cambodian factions.

–IANS

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