Cambodia: Election on Sunday without any suspense, Hun Sen and his son likely to take power

Cambodians have called on Sunday for Prime Minister Hun Sen to renew a convincingly won National Assembly, in an election widely described as a farce that has excluded any credible opposition.

In this election strictly controlled by the regime, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which holds 125 seats in the outgoing house, should again easily win a large majority.

The 70-year-old prime minister, in power for 38 years, is applying for a new mandate with methods deemed authoritarian, with a virtual guarantee of getting it.

The leader is now preparing his legacy, and seeks to consolidate control before handing over his eldest son, four-star General Hun Manet, who is trained in the United States and Britain – possibly within 3-4 weeks, he said in an interview this week.

Sebastian Strangio, author of a book on Cambodia under Hun Sen’s leadership, said, “In the best-case scenario, once in power, Hun Manet would allow a victimized opposition party like the Candle Party to participate in the election, without any realistic chance of winning.”

According to Phil Robertson of the human rights NGO Human Rights Watch, the leader’s imposition of his son is “stabbing the Cambodian people in the back”.

“Today is a day of victory for us,” Hun Manet said at the last campaign rally on Friday morning, pledging that the state would regain the glory of the Khmer Empire which ruled the region for 500 years in the Middle Ages.

Facing a tide of supporters, under a giant portrait of his father, he urged Cambodians to vote for the ruling party, the only one “capable of leading Cambodia”, before leading a procession of several thousand vehicles into the capital.

– “A very unfair choice” –

Hun Sen’s critics accused him of withholding freedoms and using the legal system to crush his opponents.

The weeks before the legislative elections were marked by his toughening of his opponents, who were deprived of their liberty or in exile.

Amidst political repression, environmental destruction and rampant corruption, Hun Sen has profoundly transformed the tiny impoverished kingdom of Southeast Asia, whose economy depends largely on China and international aid.

“Our hope for real democracy (the establishment) is fading away,” 30-year-old Vanna told AFP at a cafe, refusing to reveal his full identity. Ordinary Cambodians are afraid to criticize the government.

“I think it’s still a very unfair choice,” Vanna says.

In the last national election in 2018, Hun Sen’s CPP won all the seats after a court dissolved the main opposition party.

This time it was the Candle Party, the only credible rival to the prime minister, who was thrown out of the race for failing to register properly with the Election Commission.

“Since the Candle Party will not be able to participate in the election, it will not be free and fair,” the movement’s vice-chairman Rong Chhun told AFP. He emphasized that the voters have no option but to vote for the CPP.

“The absence of the Candle Party in the race is a blow to democracy and freedom,” he said.

– Reduce Resentment –

For the 17 parties still in the running, it is difficult to compete with the de facto war machine of Hun Sen, whose party has been able to mobilize thousands of supporters offering the population T-shirts and hats bearing his image.

“Despite this, they need legitimacy, they want to quell dissent,” political analyst Virak Ou told AFP.

As Hun Sen brought his country closer to China, mistrust grew. He says, “He understands that there is a risk in doing this and that’s why he is always very careful.”

But Phil Robertson believes that such a campaign does not fool anyone and just allows Hun Sen to pretend that the election is legitimate.

“Indeed, he did everything to ensure that he did not face any real opposition.”

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