In the Cambodian referendum, at the beginning of a dynastic rule

Cambodians vote on Sunday in no suspense-filled legislative elections, after which Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country by a hard line for 38 years, is supposed to hand over power to his eldest son.

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.

The poll was criticized by a coalition of 17 international NGOs, including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Asian Network for Free Elections (Enfrel), which on Saturday expressed concern about the “significant lack of transparency, fairness and inclusion in the electoral process”.

Hun Sen voted at a polling station in the Phnom Penh suburb of Ta Khamau, minutes after ballots opened at 07:00 (00:00 GMT), according to AFP reporters on the scene.

More than 9.7 million voters have been called to the polls for these seventh national elections since the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, which marked the end of the Khmer Rouge era.

Polling stations will close at 3pm (0800 GMT) and the first results are expected in the following hours. According to the Election Commission, the voter turnout at 10 am was a little over 33%.

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

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen votes without a doubt in legislative elections near Phnom Penh on July 23, 2023, with any credible opposition excluded (AFP – Tang Chin Sothi)

“We have exercised our duty as citizens and our right to vote to choose the party we want to lead the country,” he told reporters after casting his vote early in the morning at a polling station in the capital.

-Opposition strangled –

But Hun Sen has warned voters that he will continue to dominate Cambodian politics long after he is 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 NGO Human Rights Watch said, “Imposing your son is 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 said during the last rally of the campaign on Friday.

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.

Asked by AFP outside a polling station what he would do if voted to power, Hun Manet replied that he had “nothing to say about that”. “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.”

Hun Manet, who is likely to succeed his father as prime minister after the election, shows ink on his finger after voting in a legislative election in Phnom Penh July 23, 2023 (AFP - Stringer)
Hun Manet, who is likely to succeed his father as prime minister after the election, shows ink on his finger after voting in a legislative election in Phnom Penh July 23, 2023 (AFP – Stringer)

“I vote without enthusiasm, there is no opposition now,” Oum Sokum, 51, told AFP at a dusty polling station in Phnom Penh amid a heavy police presence.

As the elections approach, freedom of expression has been largely suppressed with the closure of one of the last independent media outlets, a heavy sentence for the main opponent for sedition, and amendments to the electoral law to virtually exclude exiled opponents from future elections.

Add a Comment