PHNOM PENH: Despite the complete absence of Cambodia’s main opposition party, the National Election Committee (NEC) hailed the success of a multi-party democracy in the country as more parties on Monday (May 14) registered for the upcoming general elections.
The NEC closed the registration at 5.30pm for political parties to participate in the vote due on Jul 29 with 20 parties putting candidates forward over the past 15 days.
“This shows that multi-party democracy is developing and progressing,” said Dim Sovannarom, NEC spokesman.
“We are walking on the road of multi-party democracy. It is the principle that NEC has to follow and do in order to move forward to the election.”
He added that in 2013, there were only eight parties registered for the election.
DISSOLVING THE OPPOSITION PARTY
Amid this, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 33 years, has waged a campaignagainst his critics, including the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which won the support of a new generation of voters disillusioned at what they see as the corruption and nepotism that have stalked politics.
But in November, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned more than 100 of its politicians, after the government accused it of plotting to take power with the help of the United States.
Members of the opposition have called for a boycott of the Jul 29 vote but preparations are going ahead, with party registration ending on Monday.
Each party that wants to compete in the election has to fulfill 10 points including fielding a minimum of 42 seats – one third of the total seats in the National Assembly – and make a deposit of US$3,750.
So far, only four parties have been formally recognised by the NEC – the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Cambodian Youth Party, Cambodian Nationality Party and Khmer National United Party.
The NEC will inspect and decide within seven days whether the other parties can legally partake.
“I think the political rights of people and of parties were promoted,” said CPP spokesman Sok Eysan.
"This is an opportunity for people, in every five years, to chose their leaders," Sovannarom added.
CAMBODIAN PEOPLE'S PARTY RUNNING WITHOUT "REAL COMPETITION"
But the absence of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the opposition movement that had genuine hopes of election victory means the CPP is essentially running without any real competition. The ruling party is predicted to sweep the vast majority of seats.
The CNRP has called the upcoming election a “sham” that “signals the death of democracy in Cambodia”. In a statement, the party called on voters to boycott.
“Abstention means supporting the CNRP in your heart and a desire for the CNRP to lead the country towards positive change.”
The United States and European Union previously suspended aid to the NEC after Cambodia's supreme court dissolved the CNRP for allegedly plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen`s government. Its 118 party officers were also banned from politics for five years.
In April, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to Cambodia Rhona Smith called on the Cambodian government to immediately release the jailed Kem Sokha, CNRP`s president and to reinstate the party before the vote.
“No election can be genuine if the main opposition party is barred from taking part,” she said.
“Those who currently rule the country have one final opportunity to reverse the current trajectory, and return instead to the constitutional path of multi-party democracy and genuine elections – ensuring a level playing field for all political parties,” Smith said.
The CNRP received more than three million votes - accounting for nearly half of the country’s registered voters - in Cambodia’s 2013 general election and enjoyed similar success in last year’s commune ballot, making it the only legitimate challenger to the CPP.
CAMBODIA HAS MORE DEMOCRACY WITH MORE PARTIES: HUN SEN
However, Hun Sen repeatedly said the upcoming election will go on as scheduled without CNRP and that Cambodia did not need any foreign country or the UN to recognise the result.
He has repeatedly also claimed that more parties running in the election means the country has more democracy.
Sok Eysan said he cannot estimate in advance the result of the election because the “people have not expressed their will” yet, but he believed that the CPP will enjoy a good result.
Lim Samnang, deputy president of Khmer Economic Development Party, which received one seat in the National Assembly following the CNRP’s dissolution, expressed his hope that his party will get more support in their second election tilt.
“We hope that we will get at least five seats,” he said. “People want a party with good policies and a good leader so the policies of our party will attract more people.”