Elections in Cambodia: the beginning of a dynastic rule

Cambodians began voting without suspense on Sunday in legislative elections that should see Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country hard for 38 years, hand over to his eldest son.

Polling stations opened at 7am (00am GMT) and will close at 3pm.

In the absence of any credible opposition following the boycott of the main anti-incumbency movement, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) should win all 125 seats in parliament, as in 2018.

A press release issued Saturday described the survey by a coalition of 17 international nongovernmental organizations as “deeply worrying.”

Rights organizations including FIDH and the Asian Network for Free Elections (Enfrel) wrote, “The forthcoming electoral process indicates a notable lack of transparency, fairness and inclusivity in the electoral process.”

Hun Sen voted minutes after ballots opened at a polling station in the Phnom Penh suburb of Ta Khamau, according to AFP reporters at the scene.

More than 9.7 million voters are being called to the polls for the 7th national election since the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, which marked the end of the Khmer Rouge era.

At 70, Hun Sen, one of the longest-serving world leaders, is preparing his succession, and seeks to consolidate control before handing over to his eldest son, four-star general Hun Manet, 45, trained in the United States and Great Britain.

The handover could happen within 3 to 4 weeks, he said in an interview this week.

-Opposition strangled –

But the leader warned voters that he would continue to dominate Cambodian politics long after he was gone.

His critics accuse him of withholding fundamental freedoms and using the judicial system to crack down on his opponents, who have jailed dozens.

Phil Robertson of the human rights NGO Human Rights Watch said, Hun Sen imputed his son, “It’s like stabbing the Cambodian people in the back”.

He says, “His escape makes Cambodia look more like North Korea rather than a real democracy”.

Prior to legislative elections, the policy of repression against opponents, deprived of their liberty or in exile, was made more stringent.

In the last national election in 2018, the PPC 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.

– Imposing your son –

“Today is a day of victory for us,” Hun Manet launched during the last rally of the campaign on Friday, promising that the kingdom would return to the glory of the Khmer Empire that shone from the 9th to 13th centuries, symbolized by the temples of Angkor.

Facing a tide of supporters, under a giant portrait of his father, he urged Cambodians to vote for the ruling party as the only one “capable of leading Cambodia”, a small impoverished state in Southeast Asia whose economy depends largely on China and international aid. He then led a procession of several thousand vehicles through the capital.

Hun Manet has recently assumed leadership, gradually taking over the functions directly assumed by his father.

A member of the powerful Standing Committee, he is the first candidate on the CPP’s list in Phnom Penh, the necessary first step to become prime minister.

“He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” political scientist O Virk analyzes for AFP. “It will be a big challenge to replace his father.”

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